Tips to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Destroying financial statements you no longer need reduces the risk of identity theft.
Destroying financial statements you no longer need reduces the risk of identity theft. (Image: Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The Federal Trade Commission defines identity theft as the use of someone else's personal identification information for the purpose of fraud or similar crimes. With up to nine million cases of identity theft each year, taking steps to prevent this from happening is crucial. The effects of having your identity stolen can last several months or longer.

Protect Information

Your Social Security number is a crucial piece of identifying information that allows someone to easily steal your identity. You get asked for your Social Security number for a number of purposes, including applying for loans, health insurance, driver's license, apartment rentals, opening bank accounts and starting utilities. Before providing your number, ask how it will be used and if there is an alternative option. For example, on your driver's license you may be able to get a different number in place of your Social Security number. Other information you should keep secure includes account numbers, passwords, PINs and address.

Destroy Unnecessary Mail

Any mail that arrives at your home with personal information in it leaves an opening for identity theft. Instead of tossing the old statements in the trash or recycling bin, shred them so the information cannot be read. Most companies offer online or email statements instead of the traditional paper copies so you can reduce the paper trail to your identity. You may even get a discount for signing up for the electronic statements. Old checks, receipts and expired credit cards also leave you open to identity theft if they are thrown away without being shredded.

Practice Online Safety

The Internet gives potential thieves access to your information, including bank account or credit card information. Most companies allow you to set up an account online to access your information. Always use passwords that are difficult to guess and don't write them down or share them with anyone. The Federal Trade Commission recommends including letters, numbers and other special characters like an asterisk or exclamation point to make the password more difficult. Avoid sharing personal information online since it could be accessed by someone who wants to steal your identity.

Verify to Whom You Are Talking

If someone else initiates a call or email to you, be wary of who is actually sending the information. A scam artist is often able to sound convincing as a representative from a company you use for banking, utilities, credit cards or other services. Emails often look official even if they come from someone trying to steal your identity. Avoid giving out any information in these situations. Call the company directly to verify that they need information. If you receive an email message, never click the link provided. Instead go directly to the company's website to access your account.

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