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How Does Identity Theft Occur?

Here are the leading ways in which the ID thief steals your personal information:

  • Skims information from one of your credit card transactions.
  • Gathers personal information from your social networking sites or smartphone.
  • Steals your paper mail.
  • Hacks into your computer network or databases or installs IT equipment to capture your personal information without your knowledge.
  • "Shoulder Surfs" (secretly watches you to obtain login credentials).
  • "Dumpster dives" into residential or business trash bins.
  • Steals your electronic device (phone, computer, iPad, etc.).

Get your Free Credit Summary

Monitoring the current status of your credit report is without question one of the most important factors in identity theft protection.

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When your personal information is stolen and used fraudulently, those transactions appear on your credit report. If you are not regularly monitoring your credit history — or having a paid service do it for you — a door remains open as to the number and the severity of those fraudulent acts against you.

Think of your credit history as a paper trail of your financial past. The major consumer reporting companies compile this history and make it available to institutions that request that information. Your credit history is typically a determining factor in getting that new job, qualifying for a home, or establishing a line of credit at your favorite store.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. You can get a free credit report every four months if you rotate through these three companies. Here is the website:

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The major identity theft protection services companies charge from $10-$25 a month to monitor your credit report for you. You might be surprised at the number of additional ID protection services and resolution services for that amount.

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By clicking on the "Give Me My Report" button above, a downloadable PDF report will open in a new tab on your browser. You can save it by right-clicking on the PDF and selecting "Save As."