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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Do the little things to protect against identity theft

STILLWATER, Okla. – With every swipe of a credit card, click of mouse and even trip to the mailbox, there is a chance your personal information could fall into the wrong hands. While you may not be able to completely escape the risk, following a few precautions could help shield you from potential problems.

“It’s important to do the little things consistently and resist being lulled into a false sense of security that your computer can’t be hacked or your identity stolen,” said Sissy Osteen, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension personal resource management specialist. “Safeguard your personal information the same way you would safeguard the cash in your wallet.”

The list of possible major headaches that could come with having your identity stolen could include difficulty securing credit, landing a job, purchasing a car and finding place to live.

According to Osteen, two of the most important steps you can take in an effort to avoid such calamities are to check your bank and credit card statements closely every month and review your credit report regularly.

“You’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three main credit reporting agencies. If you request one every four months or so, you can monitor your credit year-round,” she said.

To request copies of your credit reports, call 1-877-322-8228 or visit www.annualcreditreport.com. When reviewing your credit report and financial statements, look for items you did not purchase, withdrawals you did not make and unexpected changes of address. Many times an identity thief will start with a small charge to see if you notice.

It also is a good idea to regularly check your mail, strip any personal identifying information from mail and other items before discarding or recycling, and shred papers and documents that include personal and medical information. Do not offer personal information to people who call or email you.

To boost your online safety, ensure your computer’s security software is up-to-date and create complicated passwords that include combinations of letters, numbers and symbols. Your pet’s name is too easy to guess and so is your birthday.

If you worry about keeping up with all of those passwords, you may get a password management app that assigns them and keeps track of them for you.

“The longer your password is, the more difficult it is to decipher. Try to string together at least 10 characters, but 12 is better for more home users,” Osteen said.

When shopping or banking online, only enter personal information on encrypted websites. Web addresses for encrypted websites will begin with https. Also, if you are accessing a computer in a public place, such as the library, do not input any personal information.

For more information about protecting your identity, personal records and credit, visit www.osufacts.okstate.edu and download OSU Fact Sheets T-4317 (Frauds, Scams and Slams: Don’t Fall Prey to Identity Theft), T-4150 (Getting Your Records in Order: Organizing Household Records), T-4157 (The Financial Puzzle: Using Credit Wisely) and T-4158 (The Financial Puzzle: Credit Reports and Scores).

You also can contact your local county Extension office and visit www.ftc.gov.

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Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

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Leilana McKindra
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Agricultural Communications Services
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Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078

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