There’s no ironclad protection that guarantees that you’ll never fall victim to some form of identity theft. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself, many of which are rather simple:
1. Destroy private records and statements. Tear up -- or, if you prefer, shred -- credit card statements, solicitations and other documents that contain private financial information.
2. Secure your mail. Empty your mailbox quickly, lock it or get a P.O. box so criminals don’t have a chance to snatch credit card pitches. Never mail outgoing bill payments and checks from home. They can be stolen from your mailbox and the payee’s name erased with solvents. Mail them from the post office or another secure location.
3. Safeguard your Social Security number. Never carry your card with you, or any other card that may have your number, like a health insurance card. And don’t put your number on your checks. It’s the primary target for identity thieves because it gives them access to your credit report and bank accounts. (For more on protecting your Social Security number, see "Safeguard your Social Security number.")
4. Don’t leave a paper trail. Never leave ATM, credit card or gas station receipts behind.
5. Never let your credit card out of your sight. Worried about credit card skimming? Always keep an eye on your card or, when that’s not possible, pay with cash.
6. Know who you’re dealing with. Whenever anyone contacts you asking for private identity or financial information, make no response other than to find out who they are, what company they represent and the reason for the call. If you think the request is legitimate, contact the company yourself and confirm what you were told before revealing any of your personal data.
7. Take your name off marketers’ hit lists. In addition to the national Do-Not-Call registry (1-888-382-1222), you can also cut down on junk mail and opt out of credit card solicitations. For details, see Liz Weston’s article, "Free at last from telemarketing invasions."
9. Monitor your credit report. Obtain and thoroughly review your credit report (now available for free at Annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228) at least once a year to look for suspicious activity. If you spot something, alert your card company or the creditor immediately. You may also want to subscribe to a credit protection service, like Experian’s CreditCheck, which alerts you any time a change takes place with your credit report.
10. Review your credit card statements carefully. Make sure you recognize the merchants, locations and purchases listed before paying the bill. If you don’t need or use department-store or bank-issued credit cards, consider closing the accounts. For more on when and how to close credit card accounts, see "Cancel a credit card -- the right way."