A Few Simple Things to Protect Your Identity

The most common form of identity theft involves stealing personal information from an existing credit card account. Once your personal information is obtained, thieves open new accounts with stolen information. According to a 2008 study nearly 25% of identity theft cases followed this pattern.

So what can you do? Here are a few simple things:

• DON’T keep your Social Security card on you or print it on your checks. Once someone knows your Social Security number they can open multiple new accounts as well as gain access to your current accounts.

• NEVER give out personal information over the phone or on the internet unless you are certain of the source. Hyperlinks in professionally styled e-mails have fooled many.

• INVEST in a shredder and use it to destroy any document containing personal information about you or your family. Make sure to include credit card statements, account statements, pay stubs, etc.

• INVEST in a firewall and anti-spyware programs for your computer, especially if you have a cable or DSL line that stays connected to the internet 24x7.

• PREPARE a list of all your credit cards, include the card numbers and the phone numbers you should call if they are lost or stolen, Keep this list in a secure place.

• NEVER use obvious passwords like your name, part of your Social Security number or phone number or your address. Don’t use your mother’s maiden name, either.

Lastly, it is critical to know the signs that your identity or account information has been stolen by monitoring your checking and credit card accounts. It’s a good idea to periodically run credit reports from the three credit-rating agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Remember, you can get one free report per year from each.

Idea: Request a free report from a different agency every four months.