Prevent identity theft

Get the Facts on Identity Theft

by Walter Burch

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What steps can you take to protect yourself against identity theft? While there is no foolproof way to protect yourself against identity theft, there are important steps you can take, and habits you can practice, to minimize your chances of becoming a victim:

  1. Protect your social security number and driver's license number. Avoid carrying your social security card in your wallet or purse. If your health plan or other card uses your social security number as an identifying number, request that it be changed. Don't put your social security number or driver's license number on your checks.
  2. Be careful about what you say on the phone. Another popular tactic of identity thieves is to listen in on your conversations. If you must order a product or service over the phone, make sure you are in a secure and private location so you will not be overheard.
  3. Don't give out your personal information. Scam artists constantly look for ways to capture personal information from victims. Pretending to be a bank, department store, government agency, or other "official entity" they may call you, email you, or send you unsolicited mail hoping you fall for the scheme. Never respond to a request to verify your social security number, account information, or password. The bottom line: Don't give out your personal information unless you initiated the contact.
  4. Don't throw away your identity! One of the easiest ways for identity thieves to steal your identity is to go through your garbage. Shred or tear up thoroughly your papers and personal information before you throw them away. Pre-approved credit card offers, convenience checks, and any other personal information should also be destroyed.
  5. Protect your computer against viruses and spies. Don't allow the personal information on your computer to be readily accessible to thieves. Use strong passwords with at least 8-10 characters, including a combination of numbers, and letters, or symbols. Use firewall, virus and spyware protection that is updated regularly. Download free software only from those sites that you know and trust.
  6. Check all of your bills and bank statements carefully! Open your bank statements and credit card bills as soon as they arrive. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. If you notice that a bill doesn't arrive on time, follow up with the company quickly, because a late bill may mean someone has broken into your account and changed the contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
  7. You can stop most pre-approved credit card offers. Pre-approved credit card offers are tempting to identity thieves who may search through your mail. You can stop the majority of these pre-approved offers by requesting that your name be removed from marketing lists. The number to call is 888-5OPTOUT, or 888-567-8688.

Monitoring Your Credit

Credit monitoring services can not only help you get the credit you deserve, but it can also provide you with a "first line of defense" against identity theft. Monitoring services monitor your credit reports for key changes on a daily basis, on all three bureaus. If a key change is detected, you will receive an email alert to notify you of the change. If your identity was stolen and someone tried to open up a credit card account in your name, a credit monitoring alert could inform you that an application for credit was made in your name. Or, should an identity thief change your address on one of your accounts to hide fraudulent charges, you would receive notification of the unauthorized address change. As credit plays an increasing role in our financial lives, more and more consumers are monitoring credit on an ongoing basis.

Walter Burch is the Editor-In-Chief of, a website that provides information, as well as audio and video resources to help consumers understand, manage, and protect personal credit.

Take the Next Step

  • Consider investing in a shreader. Make sure to tear or cut up all papers with any important information on them before disgarding them.
  • Get your free credit score and free credit report, with a 30-day credit monitoring trial from Experian.

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