The Federal Trade Commission expects 9 million or more people to become victims of identity theft this year. How can you reduce your risk? Follow these tips to protect your information and decrease the chances that you will become a victim:
One way that thieves get information is the old-fashioned method - stealing your wallet or purse. Do your best to limit the amount of personal information you carry with you. Only carry the cards you really need on a regular basis. And never leave personal items unattended in a public place.
Of highest priority is guarding your Social Security number! Remove your Social Security card from your wallet and lock it in a safe place at home. Don't carry other cards containing your Social Security number either. If necessary, copy the card, cut out the part of the copy that contains the Social Security number, and carry just the copy with you. Only carry the original card for specific appointments and return the card to its safe location immediately upon returning home. When someone asks for your Social Security number, be sure you know why they need it and how they will keep it safe before you provide it.
Be sure to secure your mail and trash as well. Thieves can steal your mail on its way to your home and steal mail or trash that is leaving your home. Avoid allowing any mail containing personal information to sit in your mailbox. Pick up incoming mail as soon as possible after it is delivered. Mail outgoing mail at a secure collection box or the post office. Before throwing away anything that contains personal information, shred it with a cross-cutting or confetti shredder.
Protecting information inside your home is also important. Keep information in secure locations, where it cannot be accessed by visitors. Be sure that any computer you use to connect to the Internet is secure. Don't click on links in e-mail messages. Instead, type the url into your browser manually. Don't open attachments unless you have virus-scanned them first. Beware of sharing personal information on social networking sites or conducting personal business on public computers or Wi-Fi networks. Use hard to guess passwords and protect your PIN numbers when transacting business electronically. Don't give out any personal information over the phone unless you placed the phone call to a trusted business or organization.
Finally, monitor your accounts carefully, so that you can detect any suspicious activity quickly. Check all financial statements and compare the transactions to your receipts to be sure that every transaction is yours. Review your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus each year. You can request one report every four months for free year-round "credit monitoring."
None of these actions can completely prevent identity theft. But the suggestions will make it much more difficult for a thief to get and use your information dishonestly. Staying vigilant will reduce your chances of becoming a victim.