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Reduce Your Risk of Identity Theft by Banking Online?

You may already be using some of the more traditional means for thwarting would-be identity thieves:  shredding credit card checks and pre-approved applications, keeping your social security card in a safe place, registering for do-not-call lists, and being careful not to give out your Social Security, bank or investment account numbers over the phone to unknown callers.  But, if you have not considered doing your banking and paying bills via the Internet, some experts suggest that you may still be leaving too much information available for the thieves to get their hands on.

While it is true that some of the largest, more visible, cases of identity theft have occurred when computer hackers have obtained personal information via the Internet, in many instances, identity theft has a much more low-tech beginning – a paper statement, check, or other document pilfered from the trash or directly from a mailbox.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, about four percent of identity theft victims reported stolen mail as the source of their personal information.  Still, the majority of victims (84%) were not able to identify how their information was compromised.  Because identity theft nearly always involves the U. S. mail at some point, the U. S. Postal Inspection Service has a lead role in investigating these crimes, prompting their recommendation to deposit outgoing mail at the post office rather than leaving it for your carrier to pick up, and to refrain from leaving mail in your mailbox overnight or on weekends. 

How will switching to online banking and electronic payments help?  Here are some key points to consider:

  • Banks and other financial institutions spend substantial sums on technology to secure their websites and your personal information.  On the other hand, your mailbox is accessible to anyone. 
  • Paper checks contain a large amount of private personal information such as your account number, name, address, name of your bank, and your bank’s routing number.  This information could be used to produce fake checks allowing thieves to access your funds.  Paying your bills online and using your debit or credit card for purchases make this information less accessible.
  • Retrieving your bank information and paying bills online means that you will be reviewing your account more often, making you more likely to spot fraudulent transactions sooner than waiting for your paper statement.

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