Identity Theft Part 2: Avoid Becoming a Victim

April 08, 2011 - Posted by Joanna

Not long ago someone got a hold of my credit card number and used it to make purchases overseas.  Since then I’ve been doing everything I can to prevent something like this from happening again.  In Part 1 of this series, you learned how thieves get a hold of your personal information.  Unfortunately there isn’t a fool-proof way to avoid identity theft, however, these are things you can do to minimize your chances of becoming a victim. 

Protect your Social Security number.  Don’t carry your Social Security card with you or write your number on a check.  Only give it out when absolutely necessary, and ask to use a different type of identifier.  Ask questions like: why do you need my social security number, how will it be used, how do you protect my number from being stolen, and what will happen if I don’t give you my number?

Be careful with your mail and trash.  Don’t let dumpster divers find what they are looking for!  Shred your charge receipts, credit card application copies, insurance forms, physician statements, bank statements, expired charge cards, and credit offers you get in the mail.

If you are mailing something with personally identifying information, use the post office collection boxes or your local post office rather than an unsecured mailbox.  Also remove mail from your mailbox promptly.  If you are going out of town and can’t pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 or go to to request a vacation hold.

Don’t share information before verifying the source. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through mail, or on the internet unless you are sure you know who you are dealing with.   To get you to reveal personal information, identity thieves may call you and pose as representatives of banks, internet service providers, or government agencies.  If you aren’t sure, you can call the customer service number listed on your account statement, on your card, or in the telephone book.

Store information in safe locations.  Keep your personal information in a secure location at home, especially if you have roommates, are having work done in your house, or employ outside help.

Use caution on the Internet.  The Internet is an amazing resource, but it can leave you vulnerable to online scammers and identity thieves.  For tips to help you secure your computer and stay on guard against internet fraud, visit

Select strong passwords.  Put passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts.  Don’t use easily available information like your birth date, pet’s name, phone number, etc.   Combining letters, numbers, and other characters make the safest passwords.  When opening a new account, some businesses still ask for your mom’s maiden name.  See if you can use your own password instead.

Although these steps can reduce your risk, nothing can guarantee you won’t become a victim of identity theft.  But, the sooner you discover that you’re a victim the better your chances of minimizing the damage that may occur.  The Federal Trade Commission says that the best way to detect identity theft is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and also check your credit report on a regular basis.   If you suspect that you have become a victim, immediately take steps to respond and recover.

Have you ever been a victim of identity theft?  What are you doing to help prevent it from happening again?

Source: Federal Trade Commission.

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