Identity Theft: How to Protect Yourself

Be very careful about to whom you give out personal identification information, such as your mother's maiden name and your Social Security Number, ask if it can be kept confidential. Inquire into how it will be used and with whom it will be shared.

Never provide any personal, bank account or credit card information to anyone who contacts you through a telephone solicitation. Instead, it is advisable to demand they mail you information so that you can further research the company and their products and services.

Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Keep a list of all credit cards, account numbers, expiration dates, and the customer service phone numbers in a secure place so that you can quickly contact your creditors in case your cards are lost or stolen.

Tear Up/Destroy all ATM and bank receipts, old insurance forms, bank checks, expired credit cards, and any other papers that include personal information, identification, and account numbers about you. This includes pre-approved credit card solicitations! Thieves oftentimes search through your garbage to find these forms and information and use it to apply for credit in your name.

Minimize the number of credit cards and other items with personal information printed on them that you carry. Cancel all inactive accounts. Even though you do not use them, those accounts appear on your credit report, which can be used by thieves.

Do not leave envelopes containing your checks in your home mailbox, unless it's secured. Due to the increased risk of theft, it is best to mail bills and other sensitive items at the post office, rather than from your residence.

Social Security Number: Give it out only when necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. DO NOT store your Social Security Card in your wallet.

When creating passwords or PINs, do not use the last four digits of your Social Security Number, your birth date, middle name, mother's maiden name, address or anything else that could be discovered easily by thieves.

To decrease the number of unsolicited credit card applications that you receive (and the chances of these applications being stolen), call (888) 5OPT-OUT to have your name removed from marketing lists sold by credit bureaus.

Monitoring your credit card statements and your credit report are the most important steps you can take to safeguard your credit identity. Although it costs $8 a piece, it is a good idea to review a copy of your credit report at least once a year by contacting the following credit bureaus: 

Equifax - (800) 685-1111; Experian - (888) 397-3742, and Trans Union - (800) 680-7289.