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David Lerner Associates: Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

We’re talking about identity theft, which has become one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S., according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. In fact, identity theft complaints ranked number one in the Federal Trade Commission's list of complaints in 2012 for the 13th year in a row, increasing by 32 percent over 2011.

The Identity Theft Resource Center defines identity theft as a crime “in which an impostor obtains key pieces of personal identifying information such as Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers and uses them for their own personal gain. It can start with lost or stolen wallets, stolen mail, a data breach, computer virus, ‘phishing’ scams, or paper documents thrown out by you or a business.”

Some experts say that one reason identity theft has become so common is because it is a relatively easy crime to both commit and get away with. And when caught, identity thieves often face lighter sentences than other kinds of thieves.

Safeguarding your personal identifying information is one of the biggest keys to not becoming a victim of identity theft. Here are five tips to keep in mind:

1. Guard your Social Security number judiciously.This is your most important piece of personal identifying information, so be extremely careful with it. Never share it with anyone who calls or emails you unsolicited. Even if you initiated the contact and your Social Security number is requested, ask if sharing it is absolutely necessary. Often, it isn’t.

The same goes for any personal information, including passwords, user names and online security codes. When shopping online, make sure the site is secure — the best way to tell is to make sure the URL starts with https:// (instead of http://) and that there is a closed padlock icon in the top left or right corner of your browser.

2. Shred any paper with your personal identifying information.“Dumpster diving” is a favorite tactic of identity thieves — literally going through trash dumpsters in search of discarded paper with sensitive personal data. This includes bank and credit card statements, tax forms, pre-approved credit offers, medical and insurance claims, and “convenience checks” provided by banks. Purchase a crosscut shredder to destroy these and similar documents thoroughly.

3. Monitor your credit reports regularly.You can obtain one free copy of your credit report annually from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) — visit or call 877-322-8228 for more details. One strategy is to order a free credit report from each company once every four months, which enables you to check your credit three times each year at no charge.

4. Photocopy your wallet’s contents.Make a copy of your driver’s license and all your credit cards (both sides) and put this in a safe location. Then, if your wallet is ever lost or stolen, you will know exactly which cards have been lost and have the information you need to easily cancel them and order replacements.

5. Be suspicious of unsolicited emails.By now, many people have received the “Nigerian scam” email, in which a supposed government official (usually in Nigeria) asks for bank account information so he can supposedly disburse millions of dollars from his country. But not all email scams are this obvious.

Many email phishing schemes today are quite sophisticated, copying well-recognized logos from large banks and financial institutions. They usually direct individuals to phony Web sites where they are prompted to provide personal information in order to unfreeze their accounts or update their records. Major financial institutions usually don’t ask for personal information this way. If you receive such an email, contact the institution right away — and most importantly, do not click on the link.

Material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to be used in connection with the evaluation of any investments offered by David Lerner Associates, Inc. (DLA). This material does not constitute an offer or recommendation to buy or sell securities and should not be considering in connection with the purchase or sale of securities. Member FINRA & SIPC.

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