It's your identity. Keep it that way. You make transactions almost everyday that reveal bits of your personal information - when you apply for a credit card, for example, or buy something online. These transactions usually require you to share sensitive information like your bank account and your Social Security Number. And unfortunately, this information is the stock-in-trade of a growing crime: identity theft or ID Theft.
Identity thieves try to use your personal information to commit fraud, make purchases, and take out loans. While victims usually aren't held liable for crimes committed in their names, they can spend months - even years - repairing their finances and credit history.
Tips to protect yourself. While identity thieves may try to access your personal information in a variety of ways - from rummaging through your trash to using sophisticated technology - there are some basic precautions you can take to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Thoroughly shred mail - especially credit card bills, statements, offers for pre-approved credit, and other sensitive information - before you throw it away.
Remove mail from your mailbox every day.
Know your billing cycles. Follow up with lenders immediately if you suspect a problem.
Keep your Social Security Number, bank passwords, or other sensitive information locked away.
Memorize all Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. Do not write them down or keep them in your wallet or purse.
Cancel all unused bank and credit accounts.
Never give out sensitive information over the telephone, by email, on a website, or in person unless you initiate the contact.
Check your Social Security Earnings and Benefit statement once a year to make sure that no one else is using your Social Security number for employment.
Check your credit report regularly. You can order free annual reports from www.annualcreditreport.com.
Consider freezing your credit to prevent being a victim of ID Theft. Learn more about the latest Security Freeze Protection Law.
Remove your name from direct mail lists. Write to the companies you do business with and ask them not to sell or rent your name. To learn more about getting your name off telemarketing, direct mail, and email lists, visit www.dmaconsumers.org.
Limit the telemarketing calls you receive by adding yourself to the Do-Not-Call registry www.donotcall.gov.
Opt-out of receiving preapproved credit offers by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT.
Opt-in, opt-out, what does it mean? By law, all financial companies must offer their Customers the opportunity to opt-out - or tell the company that they don't want their personal and financial information sold to other companies and outside marketers. The catch: Unless you make a specific request, the organization is able to say that you have given implicit consent to them to share your personal information.