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Protection from 'pretexting'
The practice of people pretending to be you in order to access your sensitive information is more widespread than you think.
By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK ( -- Pretexting - or lying to get someone else's private information, may have unraveled the corporate kingdom of Hewlett Packard.

But pretexting happens all the time and according to one expert we spoke to, hundreds of thousands of people have had their phone records compromised.

In today's tips we'll tell you what you can do to protect your information from pre-texters.

Pretexting is basically a technique used by thieves masquerading as a customer or a company employee in order to gain access to personal information.

According to a privacy expert we talked to, it's illegal to get information on someone's phone records, financial records or medical records. In some cases, all the pretexters need to get access to phone records is the last four digits of a Social Security number and a zip code.

Here are some things you can do to protect your information.

1: Get a password

Pretexting is a big problem for phone companies. So you'll want to protect your phone records by putting a password on your account to restrict access. You can do this by calling your phone company and your wireless provider.

This way the next time you call for billing information the representative will see your account is "password blocked." Make sure you choose a difficult password and change it every few months.

2: Play hardball

You have the right to ask companies to use something other than your Social Security number to identify you. Think about the kind of information that's easy to get, like your mother's maiden name - and make sure you request the company asks you different kinds of identifying questions.

3: Open an online account

In some instances, pretexters opened up online accounts to access bills. Protect your info at every level. Open an online account with your phone company first so a pretexter won't be able to, says Walt Sharp of AT&T.

Or, you can ask the company to disable that option so you don't have to worry about someone setting it up. You can also opt to put a password protection on all your accounts this way.

4: Keep your lips sealed

Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you've initiated the contact.

Pretexters may pose as representatives of survey firms, banks, insurance companies and even government agencies to get you to reveal your information.

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