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Don't Let ID Thieves Rob You of Holiday Spirit

What's in your wallet? Hopefully, not your Social Security card, driver's license and all of your credit cards. Identity thieves wait for unsuspecting holiday shoppers to misplace or lose wallets so they can steal info and do a little shopping of their own.

If you don't think it can happen to you just think about the 8.3 million Americans that have been affected by identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that the 8.3 million identity theft victims have had trouble repairing their credit standing and recouping financial losses, as a result of this crime.

What's more, a National Association of Insurance Commissioners' (NAIC) survey found that 46 percent of ID theft victims surveyed report thieves stole more than $1,000 using their information, and resolving the issue took three months or more.

Identity theft not only occurs when someone steals your wallet, it can happen online or when you throw your bills away in the trash. If you want to safeguard your identity this holiday and throughout the year, follow the NAIC's seven tips to protect your identity:

  1. Know what's in your wallet?  Avoid carrying your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. This number provides access to personal and information and should in a safe and protected place. Additionally, only carry the credit cards you need. This practice limits access to your accounts if your wallet is missing or stolen.
  2. Shred, shred, shred. Open all mail and read it carefully -- even the items that might appear to be junk mail can contain personal information. Any items with personal information, such as pre-approved credit offers, bank statements or utility bills should be shredded before being discarded.
  3. Be suspicious of solicitors. You should never give personal information or your Social Security number to people unless you have verified that they are trustworthy. This advice applies to sharing information over the phone or online.
  4. Monitor your revolving accounts and credit score. Check your bank, credit card and other financial account information, along with your credit score once a year to reduce the risk of unauthorized charges.
  5. Take action against unauthorized actions. If you notice a new account has been opened in your name without your permission, immediately contact one of the three major credit bureaus -- Transunion, Equifax, Experian --and report the inaccuracy.
  6. Surf the Internet Safely. Millions of people are online at any given time, some of whom are thieves looking to steal your identity. These hackers can be found collecting information from unsuspecting "pop-ups," surfing unsecured networks or hacking into retail websites. Be sure to always use a secured network, and update your firewall.
  7. Consider purchasing identity theft insurance. Several insurance companies offer identity theft insurance. Although it cannot protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft, this insurance provides coverage for the cost of reclaiming your financial identity -- phone calls, making copies, mailing documents, taking time off of work, and hiring an attorney.

The holidays should be a joyous time, take the time protect your finances and focus on the things that really matter this season -- friends and family.

For more tips on how to safeguard your identity and finances, visit Military.com's Finance channel.

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