10 Free (or almost free) Things You Can do to Prevent Identity Theft -
1. Shred all important financial documents.
Today's thieves may be technological masterminds when it comes to manipulating your information for their gain, but that doesn't mean they are beyond dumpster diving. What you view as trash, they may view as a goldmine. So make sure you cross-
2. Request your free credit reports each year.
Since identity thieves specialize in stealing your personal information and opening new credit accounts in your name instead of simply making fraudulent charges to your existing accounts, it is extremely important that you monitor your credit report. Far too often people assume they don't need any kind of identity protection and they don't realize their credit has been compromised until they go to apply for an auto loan or to refinance their homes. Then they have to deal with the two-
3. Use strong passwords and pin numbers on all financial accounts and change them often.
Today's hackers don't usually work alone, so an identity thief (or someone who can unknowingly feed them information) might be closer to you than you think. In order to protect yourself, make sure that your passwords and pin codes for all financial institutions aren't obvious to someone who may know you. Birthdays, anniversaries and nicknames, although easy to remember, aren't very strong. If you must write your passwords and pin codes down don’t leave them in your desk at work. If possible, try not to use the same passwords and pin codes for all accounts and change them every three months for an extra measure of security.
4. Mail all bills from the post office and not your own mailbox.
Although it may be convenient to simply walk to the curb, put your outgoing mail in your mailbox and raise the red flag for the postman, you may be unintentionally alerting thieves to easy access to your bank or credit account numbers. Instead of letting your precious financial information sit unprotected, mail it at the post office where it will be safely locked inside a mailbox while it waits to be picked up. You may also want to consider getting a lock for your mailbox so you can protect all incoming bills from identity thieves. If getting a lock for your mailbox isn't an option, it may be worth incurring the small fee associated with obtaining a P.O. Box to insure that all of your financial information is safe from the clutches of lurking thieves.
5. Reduce your junk mail and unsolicited credit card offers.
Since identity thieves seek to create new credit accounts in your name, getting their hands on a credit card offer in your name could potentially seem like winning the lottery for them. Stopping (or significantly reducing) the amount of junk mail-
6. Always know where your credit card is—even in restaurants and retail stores.
Although not having to carry cash is convenient, especially when you are out to dinner at a nice restaurant, using a credit card in venues where you cannot always see the person running your card might be putting you at risk. Many waiters use skimming to process your payment, and identity thieves sometimes sit in parking lots trying to access financial information from restaurants and stores that may use wireless systems. If keeping your card within your line of sight isn’t always possible, pay with cash instead.
7. See if your credit card company offers any free safety features for online shopping.
Although many online retail outlets promise "secure" shopping on their sites, you can never be too safe. Some financial institutions offer built in features to protect you-
8. Don't carry your social security number with you, and don’t use it as a user ID or password.
9. Monitor credit card bills and bank statements carefully each month.
Although identity thieves specialize in lifting your information and creating new accounts with it, there are some novice thieves who simply steal your information and make charges to your existing accounts. Smart thieves won't make huge purchases, and they won't make multiple purchases on one account at one time. Instead, they will monitor your spending habits and will try to make purchases that will mimic yours in hopes that you wont' notice that they are using your account. So, once a month schedule a time to sit down and study your credit card bills and bank statements so you can ensure that you are only paying for purchases that you authorized or made. Make sure to pay special attention to bills and statements that come just after a vacation, as account information is more easily stolen when people travel.
10. Beware of online "friends" who may really be identity thieves in disguise.
Internet chat rooms, online dating sites and teen friendly sites like Facebook or MySpace might be making you and your family more vulnerable to identity theft than you think. Educate your children about identity theft so they don’t unintentionally pass along personal information to someone who may be posing as a friend. And regularly check your children's profile pages to make sure addresses and phone numbers aren’t being released to the public. In a world where things aren't always what they seem, you can never be too careful.
If Identity Theft Happens to You
Despite your best efforts to protect yourself, you still might find yourself as a victim of identity theft. If you do, make sure you contact your local police, all of your financial institutions and all three credit agencies (Equifax: www.equifax.com TransUnion: www.tuc.com and Experian: www.experian.com) right away. You may also want to consider putting a security freeze on your credit report. It will prevent anyone from running your credit without you being notified first. Remember, it's your identity so it's your job to protect it.