Every 3.5 seconds in the United States, someone's identity is stolen. Unfortunately, many view identity theft as an 'online' only problem. It's true that phishing scams, Trojans, and other forms of cybercrime are a factor, but there are also far more low tech means of identity theft - including digging through your garbage or stealing your wallet or purse. You can minimize your risk by following these ten tips:
- Never carry more credit cards than you need and cancel credit card accounts you don't use.
- Never carry your social security card. Likewise, don't disclose your social security number unless absolutely necessary, i.e. for banking or tax purposes.
- Don't throw away bills or any document containing account or other personally identifying details - use a shredder.
- Don't leave receipts behind. Cross check your credit card bills against the receipts.
- Keep a tight hold on your purse or wallet - pickpocketing and purse snatching are still alive and well. At parties, in restaurants, or while shopping, know where your purse or wallet is at all times.
- When traveling, suspend delivery of the newspaper and mail, or ask a trusted neighbor or friend to gather these items for you. Newspapers piling up outside the home are good indication to would-be theives that you may be away. Mail left unattended in an unsecured mailbox provides a ripe opportunity for theft.
- Don't use the same password on multiple sites. Contrary to popular belief, writing down your password isn't such a bad idea. >> Creating a Strong Password System
- When shopping online, avoid unknown ecommerce sites. Be particularly leary of any banner ad or unexpected pop-up that claims your computer is infected or in need of repairs. Rogue spyware scanners and nefarious registry cleaners often use these tactics to trick you into purchasing software that may be ineffective at best, and malicious at worst.
- Familiarize yourself with online scams so you don't become the next victim. If it sounds to good to be true, chances are it is a scam. >> Top Internet and E-mail Scams
- Keep your computer secure. Make sure your antivirus software is always up to date and a firewall is running at all times. >> Computer Security Tips
As of November 2007, the three major credit bureaus - Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion - opened up credit freeze protection for states that don't have credit freeze acts in place. This means anyone in any of the 50 states has a means to place a freeze on credit reports. Without the ability to obtain a credit report, would-be identity thieves won't be able to establish new accounts in your name. For full details on credit freezes, see the Consumers Union's Guide to Security Freeze Protection.