NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - The recent issues experienced at Home Depot and the data breach reported by Target last December remind us that we need to pay attention to what is happening with our personal information. Here are some of the things we all need to pay attention to regarding protecting ourselves from identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and tries to use it for his or her own purposes. It can ruin your finances and your credit history, and can take an enormous amount of time and energy to correct, to say nothing of the angst and stress it creates.

Passwords are a critical element in protecting your personal information on all those websites you visit.  It is important to change your passwords periodically in order to make sure your personal data can’t be accessed by others. And remember to use different passwords for each website you visit regularly.  Don’t make it easy for hackers to figure out how to get into all those websites you use, including your banks and other financial institutions. And don’t use things that could be easily figured out like your birthday, a family member’s birthday, your child’s name, or your dog’s name. You get the general idea. The more complex passwords with numbers, symbols and upper and lower case letters in them are much more difficult for the password cracking software programs to identify.

For those of us who have more than a handful of passwords to change, this task can quickly become very onerous, and it is unrealistic to think you can change all of your passwords without writing them all down. You might want to consider increasing your security by using a tool called a dedicated password manager such as that you can install on your Mac, PC, or mobile device. Once installed, a password manager will create, store, and recall all of your user names and passwords while offering the highest possible levels of encryption. You only need to remember one password and you won’t have lists of passwords hanging around on your desk (PLEASE DON’T EVER DO THIS) or growing stale in your safe-deposit box.

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Stay aware and be proactive to prevent your identity from being stolen.  Review your accounts periodically to make sure there are no withdrawals you can’t explain. Never give out confidential information in response to unsolicited requests for information. Most legitimate organizations will not call you and ask for passwords, social security numbers, etc. for any reason. Shred any pre-approved credit offers you receive and any important documents you no longer need to retain.  Obtain a copy of your credit report at a minimum annually to catch mistakes or fraudulent activity.  Make sure you continue to receive bills, account statements, etc. in the mail if you haven’t signed up for e-statements. Be on your guard when using the ATM.

If you are a victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends  doing the following immediately. First, ask one of the three credit reporting companies to put a fraud alert on your credit report.  They must tell the other two companies.   The alert lasts 90 days but you can renew it. Second, obtain a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. Third, create an Identity Theft Report.  To do this submit a report about the theft to the FTC. Print a copy of the report.  It will be called an Identity Theft Affidavit.  Bring your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit when you file a police report.  File a police report about the identity theft, and get a copy of the police report or the report number.  Your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit and your police report make an Identity Theft Report.   An Identity Theft Report gives you important rights that can help you recover from the theft.  Resolving identity theft takes phone calls and letters to businesses, credit card issuers, financial institutions, government agencies, etc.  The FTC recommends creating a system to organize your papers and calls, and to track deadlines.  To get a copy of the FTCs free publication, Taking Charge: What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen click on

Lassus Wherley,a advertiser, was founded in 1985 by Diahann W. Lassus, CFP®, CPA/PFS and Clare E. Wherley, CPA, CFP®.  We have two offices to serve our clients, one in New Providence, NJ, and the other in Bonita Springs, FL.  Lassus Wherley is a Fee-Only wealth management firm with expertise in financial planning, investment management, tax preparation, trust services, and family office support. We work with individuals, couples, families, pension and profit sharing plans, trusts, estates, charitable organizations, corporations and other business entities. Using a team approach that we have developed over more than 25 years, we have helped hundreds of clients build secure financial futures and achieve peace of mind.  Lassus Wherley is a nationally certified Women’s Business Enterprise by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), the nation’s leading organization dedicated to the advancement of Fee-Only comprehensive financial planning. The Lassus Wherley web site is