Your most valuable possession may be in jeopardy. Identity theft—the theft of personal information to establish credit or borrow money in someone else's name—is a continuing and growing threat. Over half a million people are victims of this crime every year, and many of them must spend considerable time hassling with credit agencies, financial institutions, and police departments in an effort to repair the damage to their name. Others seek legal help, usually at great expense.
Your best protection is prevention. Take our quiz to find out your "identity theft IQ." Then read on to learn what steps you can take to prevent identity theft and preserve your good name.
Protect Your Mail
If your mailbox is unlocked, your mail could easily be pilfered, providing the thief with your bank account numbers and balances, credit card information, new checks—and more. Think about all the personal information included in insurance policies and bills of all kinds, including physicians' statements! Credit card offers in your name also pose a significant risk, should someone get a hold of them.
A post office box, a mail slot, or a locking mailbox are three possible ways to protect your mail. You should also make a point of always using a post office collection box for your outgoing mail—if it's personal, don't leave it in an outgoing mail bin at work.
If you don't receive an expected bill in a timely manner, contact the company. For greater security, consider receiving and paying bills online, which has the added benefit of minimizing the amount of paper mail coming and going. However, there are certain things to keep in mind when sharing your information online as well—read on to keep yourself covered.
Protect Your Personal Paperwork
A file cabinet that locks and a good shredder are indispensable items in every household these days. A desk drawer or an unlocked file cabinet leaves private information readily accessible to any ill-intentioned people who enter your home (cleaners, repair people, delivery people, etc.), as well as anyone who breaks into your home.
Keep all important information—bank statements and other financial information, blank checks, charge card receipts, insurance policies, physicians' statements, charge cards you're not using, passport, Social Security card, birth certificate, etc.—in a locked file cabinet. Don't throw away any outdated statements, expired charge cards, or other important information without shredding them first. That trash bag sitting on the curb is an open invitation to identity theft.