At some point, we've all wished we could change places with someone
else, preferably someone rich and famous. Guess what? There are
plenty of people who'd love to be plain-old you, and they'll go
to great lengths to get their hands on your identity.
More than half a million people find themselves victims of identity
theft each year. If you're an ID thief's mark, you'll likely face
years of lost money and added frustration as you work to clean up
The best protection is prevention. Here are some tips to safeguard
your good name:
1. Be watchful of shoulder-surfers. At ATMs and phone
booths, thieves will stand close enough to see PIN numbers punched
in by users.
2. Mind those credit card receipts, especially since only
a few credit card receipts have stopped listing full account numbers
and expiration dates. Put the charge slip copies in a safe spot
until your credit card bills arrive.
3. Buy a shredder and use it. Shred everything, including
credit card receipts (after you've reconciled your bill), old
bank statements, medical statements, everyday bills, and pre-approved
credit card offers. Any document that has personal financial information
on it can give an identity thief a foothold into your life.
4. Write clearly on all credit applications. Consistently
and completely fill in all credit and loan applications using
your full name, first, middle and last. Every bill that comes
to your house should be addressed exactly the same.
5. Monitor your credit accounts carefully, so you'll
know if a bill's missing or unauthorized purchases have been
out unused credit cards. Cutting them up is not enough.
6. Limit the number of credit cards you carry. The fewer
cards you have, the easier it is to track them.
7. Get a credit report at least once a year and clean
up any errors. Look for personal information and credit accounts
that are not yours. Credit
bureaus make mistakes.
8. Never leave paid bills in your mailbox for the mail
carrier to pick up. Drop them off at a post office box.
9. If you're moving, contact all your creditors and
update them of your address changes immediately. You don't want
credit information and new credit cards being delivered to the
wrong address. Likewise, if your credit card expires and you
don't receive a new one, call your creditor immediately.
10. Protect your Social Security number. Only
give your Social Security number when absolutely necessary.
Avoid using it as your account number whenever possible. If
merchants demand it, ask for an alternate number and take your
business elsewhere if they insist on writing it on your check.
Likewise, don't print it on your checks.
11. Never carry your Social Security number and driver
license together in your wallet.
12. Don't provide your Social Security number, bank
account number or credit card number to anyone who contacts
you through telephone solicitation.
13. If you're shopping with an online merchant for the
first time, look for the Trust-e symbol or a Better Business
Bureau online seal. These indicate the seller has been independently
audited and deemed trustworthy.
14. Make sure any online credit card charges are handled
through a secure site or in an encrypted mode. You'll know you're
on a secure site if the Web page on which you conduct your transaction
begins with https instead of the usual http.
Know how your personal information will be handled. Print out
privacy policies, warranties, price guarantees and other important