Identity theft: protect yourself

It's become way too easy to commit identity theft. It might start with someone copying financial information from a form or application you filled out at a business. Or, your mailbox could be searched for credit card offers, preapproved credit cards, and bank statements. Such documents could allow an identity thief to apply for a credit card in your name. While waiting for the card, they may file a change of address form with the post office so the new credit card is sent elsewhere. Once in hand, the credit card is then activated for a big shopping spree, usually on the Internet where thousand of dollars can be spent anonymously within a few minutes. 

According to a recent survey, 60% of Americans said they were not worried about identity theft. They should be. It's a crime that's growing exponentially and, once the damage is done, it can take years to clean up your credit rating. The bottom line is that you should do all you can to prevent identity theft, including the following tactics:

  1. Shred or burn all financial documents before throwing them out.

  2. Never leave outgoing mail in your mailbox.

  3. Make sure you get all your credit card receipts back.

  4. If shopping online, stick to the larger, more reputable retailers.

  5. Call 888-567-8688 to prevent credit agencies from providing your information to credit-card companies.

  6. Monitor your credit. The three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) will send you a free credit report on request.

  7. If you think you're at risk, write to the three reporting agencies and have them place a "fraud alert" on your credit reports. Once the alert is on your account, the agencies can't provide your personal information to lenders without first contacting you by phone for permission.

You might also consider use of a credit-tracking service like According to the FTC, the average identity-theft victim doesn't know about it until 13 months after the theft has occurred. For an annual fee, will notify you if someone tries to open an account in your name or whenever one of your credit cards has a sudden surge in purchases.

Kirsten Cowles