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Protect yourself from ID theft

  • Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately and notify one of the three credit monitoring agencies if you discover your identity has been stolen.
  • Close any of the affected accounts right away and notify your local authorities. Then report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Never give out your personal information to anyone who asks for it by phone or e-mail, unless you know the person or have initiated the conversation.
  • Use one credit card specifically for online shopping and be sure you can check the statements regularly online. Also be sure it has a low credit limit so if you get ripped off, you won’t lose much.
  • Never use your debit card as a credit card. If it is stolen, thieves can drain your entire bank account.
  • Try to shop only on secured Websites from companies you know and trust.
  • Never use something obvious as a password, like your mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • Avoid sending your financial or personal information (Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, etc) via e-mail or instant messenger. They’re usually not encrypted and your information could be intercepted.
  • If your identity is stolen (or you think it might have been stolen) and you live in one of the 26 states with laws allowing you to do so, consider freezing access to your credit records.
  • Keep your personal and financial information in a safe and secure place at home. Though a lot of identity theft occurs online, the Federal Trade Commission says even more happens the old fashioned way: stealing your stuff.
  • Be alert to signs of trouble like unexpected bills, bills that never come even though they should, denials of credit for no apparent reason, calls from businesses about purchases you never made.
  • Always check your credit report and inspect your financial statements. 

—Research by Kevin Livelli