Identity thieves can empty your bank account, max out your credit cards, open new accounts in your name, and purchase furniture, cars, and even homes on the basis of your credit history. While you may never be able to completely prevent your identity from being stolen, there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Check yourself out
It’s important to review your credit report periodically. Check to make sure that all the information contained in it is correct, and be on the lookout for any fraudulent activity. You may get your credit report for free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Secure your number
Your most important personal identifier is your Social Security number (SSN). Guard it carefully. Never carry your Social Security card with you unless you’ll need it. The same goes for other forms of identification (for example, health insurance cards) that display your SSN. Don’t give it out over the phone unless you initiate the call to an organization you trust.
Don’t leave home with it
Most of us carry our checkbooks and all of our credit cards, debit cards, and telephone cards with us all the time. That’s a bad idea; if your wallet or purse is stolen, the thief will have a treasure chest of new toys to play with. Carry only the cards and/or checks you’ll need for any one trip.
Keep your receipts
When you make a purchase with a credit or debit card, you’re given a receipt. Don’t throw it away or leave it behind; it may contain your credit or debit card information. And don’t leave it in the shopping bag inside your car while you continue shopping; if your car is broken into and the item you bought is stolen, your identity may be as well. Save your receipts until you can check them against your monthly credit card and bank statements, and watch your statements for purchases you didn’t make.
When you toss it, shred it
Before you throw out any financial records such as cancelled checks, or even offers for credit you receive in the mail, shred the documents, preferably with a cross-cut shredder. If you don’t, you may find the panhandler going through your dumpster was looking for more than discarded leftovers.