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Protect your financial information

Residents take home tips to prevent identity theft

POSTED: March 4, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Kathy and Hugh Bond got an unexpected call from their bank in November. It appears while the couple was spending time in Atlanta, Hugh Bond’s debit card made a purchase in Fredericksburg, Va.

The Gainesville couple had become victims of identity thieves.

“We didn’t even know how it happened,” Kathy Bond said, adding she and her husband normally use cash.

To learn better ways to protect themselves from identity theft, the Bonds, and 30 others, attended WomenSource’s financial program “Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft” last week at Lakeview Academy. Tim Rine, the regional director of intermediary sales with Wells Fargo Asset Management, discussed steps residents can follow to decrease their vulnerability gap.

“Even though we feel vulnerable, we don’t have to feel crippled,” Rine said, noting he was a victim of identity theft in 2007.

He and the Bonds are not alone. In 2008, 12.5 million Americans were victims of identity theft. A year later, the number rose to 13.9 million. In 2010, the number dwindled to 10.2 million. However, that still accounts for 1 in 30 people being victims of identity theft.

“I don’t have the silver bullet,” to stop identity theft, Rine said. “But I have steps you can undertake to protect yourself.”

The first step is to install firewalls on any computer in your home or office. The cost of a firewall is worth protecting the computer system and important information stored on it, Rine said.

The second step is to not reveal any personal information on social networks. A third step is to ignore emails seeking readers to click on any weblinks as well as opting out of any and all unsolicited emails.

A fourth step is creating tough-to-crack passwords.

“Make sure thsey are lengthy and change them every three to six months,” Rine said. “And don’t let any financial program autosave your passwords.”

He explained longer passwords with letters, numbers and other characters are harder for identity thieves or hackers to crack.

Connecting to financial institutions and accounts only from your home computer is preferable. Or using a secure Wi-Fi connection will keep your information more secure.

However, high-tech steps were not the only ones Rine supplied. He offered two low-tech preventive measures such as installing a locked mailbox and using a cross-cut paper shredder.

A locked mailbox is similar to the blue collection boxes at post offices. The mail carrier slips the mail into the box, then the mail drops to the bottom of the box. The resident retrieves the mail from the bottom of the box, which is locked with a key.

“You have the only access to your personal information,” Rine said. “You are protecting your assets.”

One woman asked how residents could send mail from their home mailbox with the locked mailbox.

“Don’t do that,” Rine said, adding the red flag signals thieves mail is in the box and awaiting pickup.

The “red flag” is a “red flag” to criminals, he said.

If criminals do obtain a person’s financial information, Rine advised the following:

* Contact the three credit bureaus of Experian.com, Equifax.com and TransUnion.com

* Close all credit card accounts

* File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission

* File a report with the local police

At the end of his presentation, Rine suggested each participant do two or three of the suggestions.

Jeff and Margaret Whalen of Gainesville planned to follow his advice.

“I think the locked mailbox was the No. 1 thing,” Margaret Whalen said.

Jeff Whalen plans to change all of his passwords.

As for the Bonds, they plan to take a couple of steps to protect themselves.

“We will probably get the mailbox that’s locked,” Kathy Bond said. “And maybe consider a new password.”


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