Your busy day may include writing a check at the grocery store, charging tickets to a ball game, calling home on your cell phone, and applying for a credit card. These simple transactions provide all the information needed to steal your identity. Personal information such as bank and credit card account numbers, Social Security number, address, and phone number is what an identity thief needs to take control of your accounts. While you can't prevent identity theft, you can minimize your risk by managing your personal information wisely.
Guard your mail from theft. Take outgoing mail to the post office or drop it in a collection box. Remove mail promptly from your box after it's delivered.
If your bills don't arrive on time, follow up with the creditors. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
Put passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Don't use easily obtained information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, etc.
Discard papers with personal information such as insurance forms, returned checks, physician statements, credit card offers, etc. by tearing them up or shredding them.
Keep items with personal information in a secure place in your home especially if you have household help, roommates, or have service people coming to your home.
Don't give out personal information on the phone, over the Internet, or through the mail unless you have initiated the contact or know who you're dealing with.
Provide your Social Security number only when necessary. Your employer and financial institution will need your number for wage and tax reporting purposes. Businesses may ask for it to do a credit check if you apply for a loan. However, if a business wants your SSN just for general record keeping, you may want to question why they need it. Also, don't carry the card with you.
You may still be victimized even if you've been very careful. You should regularly check your credit record. Order your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus and confirm that all the information is correct.