The following tips can help lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card or other cards that show your SSN. Read Your Social Security Number: Controlling the Key to Identity Theft. Do not print your SSN on checks or on your driver's license.
Use caution when giving out your personal information. Scam artists “phish” for victims by pretending to be banks, stores, shipping companies, or government agencies. They do this over the phone (called “vishing”), in emails, in postal mail, and sometimes in person. Phishers will also visit your home or office.
Learn how to stay safe on social networking sites. Limit the amount and kind of personal information you share on social media. Your friends don't need to know your address, the year of your birth, or other uniquely identifyng information. If you go on vacation, wait until you return to share your photos and descriptions.
Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing. Currently, there are at least six types of known scams: foreign business offers, love losses, overpayments, rental schemes, sudden riches, and work-at-home. All of these can involve theft of your personal identity. Cons and scams of all sorts, particularly on the Internet, abound.
Treat your trash carefully. Shred or destroy papers containing your personal information including credit card offers and “convenience checks” you don't use. Remember that Dumpster-diving is an increasingly lucrative and common occurrence. The Federal Trade Commission recommends everyone purchase a shredder.
Protect your postal mail. Retrieve mail promptly. Discontinue delivery while out of town.
Check your bills and bank statements. Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals, and report them immediately. Call if bills don't arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
Check your credit reports. Review your free credit report at least once a year. Check for mis-spellings of your name, changed or mis-spelled addresses and any activity you don't recognize or any fraudulent activity.
Stop pre-approved credit offers. Pre-approved credit card offers are a target for identity thieves, who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. You can also call toll-free 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) to do this.
Wireless Access Points. Free public wireless access, for example in coffee shops or at airports, are ripe for hacker exploitation, because public wi-fi access is the modern equivalent of an old-fashioned telephone party-line. Using a VPN (virtual private network) to protect your data can solve this problem, though hackers can infect a computer in the very short time between logging onto the public wireless and engaging the VPN.
Best not to use Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File-sharing. P2P File-sharing applications, like Gnutella, BitTorrent, eDonkey, and others, present real security risks, including the risk of identity theft, to both individuals and organizations. If you must use it, there are some measures you can take to manage your risk.
On-Line Job Hunting. Be careful about sharing personal information when looking for a job online.
ATM Banking or Debit/Credit Card Use. Do not use PINS like your birthday, initials, maiden name, etc., and never use a debit card online.
Internet Use. When shopping online, check out a Web site before entering your credit card number or other personal information, and never use a debit card online.
Only enter personal information on secure Web pages that encrypt your data in transit. You can often tell if a page is secure, if “https” is in the URL, and a padlock icon on the browser window.
Ask questions. Whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction, ask questions. Ask how the information will be used, and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. If you're not satisfied with the answers, don't give your personal information.