Minimizing the disaster of identity theft depends primarily on your vigilance in guarding your privacy. You've got to guard your personal information diligently. Here are some tips for keeping your private information secure:
- Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
- Don't have your Social Security number or your driver's license number preprinted on your checks.
- Use your initials (instead of your first name) and last name on your checks. If some one takes your checks, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your full name, but your bank will know.
- If you have a P.O. Box or work address, put that address on your checks instead of your home address. Put your work phone number on your checks instead of your home phone number.
- When writing a check to a credit card account, do not put the complete account number on the "For" line -- just use the last four numbers.
- Install a locking mailbox or a mail slot that goes directly into your house. Send your mail, especially payments, directly from the post office (don't put it in the mailbox for the postal carrier to pick up).
- Order your credit report every year. Promptly respond to any inaccurate information.
- Change your passwords and PINs regularly. Don't use obvious codes such as birthdays or the name of your spouse, child, or pet. Memorize passwords and PINs and shred any piece of paper on which they are written.
- Diligently review credit card statements, phone, and utility bills. Call if you don't recognize a charge or phone call.
- Always take your credit card receipts when shopping, and never throw them away in public.
- Tear up or shred any offers of preapproved credit cards you don't intend to use and beware of offers from companies you don't recognize. It's easy to create an official-looking and completely phony credit application offering you preapproved credit if you provide your Social Security number, mother's maiden name (for supposed security reasons), and a signature.
- Don't give personal information over the phone unless absolutely necessary, and don't ever give it unless you initiated the phone call. If someone calls who says they are calling from your bank or credit company or the IRS, ask for a number to call them back -- and then make sure it's really an official number.
- Beware of anyone asking for your Social Security number. If they refuse to complete a transaction without it, consider taking your business elsewhere.
- Pick up your new checks from the bank instead of having them sent to your home.
- Don't put personal information, such as your birthdate, on a computer home page, personal computer profile, or social media website. Never provide personal or financial information unless the site is secure (for example, look for a security symbol such as an unbroken padlock in the corner of the screen and a Web browser that starts with https rather than simply http. Right-click the padlock to make sure its up to date.)
- If you find your personal information posted somewhere on the Internet, demand that it be removed.
- Don't reply to pop-up or spam messages on your computer, and be cautious about opening attachments and downloads.
- Beware of email messages from friends in supposed distress, who need you to wire them money overseas. This is a regular scam.
For more tips, see Nolo's article Preventing Identity Theft.