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It’s a Wonderful Life is an American Christmas classic based on the short story, “The Greatest Gift.” When George Bailey faces financial troubles, he wishes he had never been born. After an angel grants his wish, George realizes how many lives he has impacted and how they would be different if he was never there. Fortunately for George, his guardian angel changes everything back. That is the beauty of movies! But, losing your identity and finances from identity theft can be a devastating reality.

Living in an information age means a greater risk of identity theft especially during the holidays. Looking forward to the holidays, whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays, many busy people often become careless and vulnerable to theft and other crimes. When someone steals your personal information, it can wreak havoc with your finances, credit history, and reputation — and can take time, money, and patience to resolve. That is why prevention is so important, not just during the holiday season.
Reducing or minimizing the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud, is as easy as remember the word “SCAMS.”

S – Be Stingy about giving out your personal information to others unless you have a reason to trust them. Identity thieves may call, posing as banks or government agencies. To prevent identity theft, do not respond to unsolicited requests for personal information in the mail, over the phone or online. Also, the more information that you have printed on your personal bank checks, the more personal data you are regularly sharing with those that may not need it. There is no reason to print your Social Security Number or telephone number on your personal checks.

CCheck your financial information regularly and pay attention to your billing cycles. Too many people only give those statements a quick glance and don’t review them closely to make sure there are no unauthorized withdrawals or charges. By monitoring your bank and credit card statements, you will catch credit card and check theft immediately. If you are not receiving monthly statements, check with your financial institution. Identity theft can start by changing your billing address. To monitor accounts quickly and conveniently, sign up for automatic account alerts when any transaction occurs on your account.

AAsk periodically for a copy of your credit report, typically once a year. Make sure your credit reports are accurate and that you sign up for a credit monitoring service, which can alert you by email to changes in your credit report. Your credit report should list all bank and financial accounts under your name, and will provide other indications of whether someone has wrongfully opened or used any accounts in your name.

MMaintain careful records of your banking and financial accounts. Even though financial institutions are required to maintain copies of your checks, debit transactions, and similar transactions for five years, you should retain your monthly statements and checks for at least one year, if not more. Ask for receipts and promptly compare with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.

S – Additional Security tips to help keep your personal identity safe include:

•Only carry essential documents with you. Do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your wallet.

•Creating passwords or PIN numbers out of a random mix of letters and numbers makes it harder for identity thieves to discover. Never write a PIN on a credit/debit card or on a slip of paper kept in your wallet.

•Watch out for “shoulder surfers”. Use your free hand to shield the keypad when using pay phones and ATMs.

•Collect mail promptly. If you’re traveling, have your mail held at the post office, or ask someone you trust ¬¬ to collect and hold your mail while you’re away.

•Your trash is their treasure. Tear up or shred unwanted receipts, credit offers, account statements, expired cards, etc., to prevent dumpster divers from getting your personal information.

•Keep new checks out of the mail. Picking them up at the bank rather than having them delivered to your home makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered and cashed by identity thieves.

•Store personal information in a safe place. Keep a list of account numbers, expiration dates and telephone numbers filed away. If your wallet is stolen, being able to quickly alert your creditors is essential to prevent identity theft.

•Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.

Now, isn’t protecting your identity is the “greatest gift of all?”

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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