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Jeanne Kelly Headshot

'Spring Forward' to Protect Your Identity

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Daylight Saving Time might steal an hour from us, and the worst result for most of us is that we need an extra coffee to get through the day. But there is a theft that is even worse than that missing hour: I'm talking about identity theft.

Identity theft can happen in a number of different ways. Some of the ways to steal identities can seem pretty high tech -- and we've probably heard of scammers adding hardware to ATM machines or debit transaction machines to capture our bank cards and PINs.

But identity theft isn't always high tech. With just a little bit of information from you (even with papers you throw out carelessly in the trash, for example), an identity thief can cash in on your good name and credit.

Identity theft is scary! Someone pretending to be you could potentially spend all of your money, borrow against your assets, and destroy your credit. It could take months -- even years -- to correct your credit if you become the victim of identity theft.

So how can you protect yourself and your credit score? There are many things you can do. Here are a few tips for you. Adopt as many as you can right away:

• Shred all documents that you don't save, including "junk mail." (Pre-approved credit cards contain a lot of information about you that an identity thief can use).

• If you make purchases online, make sure that the company you are buying from is a reputable company with secure transaction information storage. Consider using just one credit card with a low spending limit as your "online purchases only" card. That way, you'll limit your losses if someone does get a hold of your card.

• Check your credit card statements regularly for purchases that you don't recognize. They might not all be bad. For example, a company might operate under two different names, so you might have purchased from one company but it shows up on your credit card as a different name. That's okay, but an unknown charge should at least prompt you to investigate further.

• Do not share private information about yourself online.

• Keep contact information for credit cards handy so that if you lose your wallet, you can sit down and call each credit card company immediately to cancel your cards.

• Use unusual passwords, change your passwords regularly, and do not give out your passwords.

• Your cellphone is loaded with personal information about you. Make sure it is password protected.

• Check your credit reports regularly (at least twice a year; perhaps even more frequently than that) and pay particular attention to accounts or addresses on your reports that do not belong to you.

On March 10, Daylight Saving Time stole an hour from you. That's not too bad. But every single day you run the risk of identity theft. Use these tips to protect yourself!