10 things you should know about identity theft © Mike Kemp/Getty Images

The Basics

10 ways to guard against ID theft

Lots of people worry about the wrong things (online shopping, for example) while neglecting some fairly simple ways to protect themselves.

By CreditCards.com

Identity theft is often in the news, but there are a lot of misconceptions swirling around about how to best protect yourself.

While some identity thieves focus on getting your credit cards and maxing them out before you even realize they're missing, an increasing number are using one piece of information about you -- often a credit card number -- to steal your entire identity.

Though many folks worry about keeping their credit card information secure when shopping online, the top methods that identity thieves use to steal personal data are still low-tech, according to Justin Yurek, the president of ID Watchdog, an identity theft-monitoring company. "Watch your personal documents, be careful to whom you give out your data over the phone, and be careful of mail theft," he says.

No one is immune to identity theft, but a little knowledge about how identity thieves operate -- and a little common sense -- can help you stay a step ahead of them.

1. Thieves don't need your credit card number in order to steal it. Conversely, they don't need your credit card in order to steal your identity. Identity thieves are crafty; sometimes all they need is one piece of information about you and they can easily gain access to the rest. As a result, says Heather Wells, recovery manager at ID Experts, an identity protection company, today it's crucial to lock up important documents at home. "Secure birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports, in a safe deposit box or in a safe hidden at home," she says. "And that includes credit cards when not in use."

2. The nonfinancial personal information you reveal online is often enough for a thief. Beware of seemingly innocent personal facts that a thief could use to steal your identity. For example, never list your full birth date on Facebook or any other social-networking website. And don't list your home address or telephone number on any website you use for personal or business reasons, including job-search sites.

3. Be careful with your snail mail. "Follow your billing cycles closely," says Lucy Duni, the vice president of consumer education at TrueCredit. "If a credit card or other bill hasn't arrived, it may mean that an identity thief has gotten hold of your account and changed your billing address." Al Marcella, professor at Webster University's School of Business and Technology in St. Louis, and an expert on identity theft, suggests when you order new checks, you pick them up at the bank instead of shipping them to your home. "Stolen checks can be altered and cashed by fraudsters," says Duni. And never place outgoing mail in your post office box or door slot for a carrier to pick up. Anyone can grab it and get your credit card numbers and other financial information. Take it to the post office yourself.

4. Review all bank and credit card statements each month, preferably once a week. Watch for charges of less than a dollar or two from unfamiliar companies or individuals. Thieves who are planning to purchase a block of stolen credit card numbers often first test to check that the accounts haven't been canceled by aware customers by sending a small charge through, sometimes for only a few pennies. If the first charge succeeds, they'll buy the stolen data and make a much larger charge or purchase. They're guessing -- often correctly -- that most cardholders won't notice such a tiny charge. In addition, many of the fraud alerts you can set on your accounts aren't triggered by small dollar amounts. Reviewing your credit report on a regular basis is also a good idea, although by the time a fraudulent transaction reaches your credit report, it's often too late.

5. If an ATM or store terminal looks funny, don't use it. "Make sure there is no device attached to any ATM card slot you use," says Wells. "As a general rule, the mouth of a card receptacle on an ATM machine should be flush with the machine or have only a very slight lip." If it looks or feels different when you swipe your card, or has an extra piece of plastic sticking out from the card slot, it may be a skimmer, an electronic device placed there by thieves that captures your credit card information when you swipe it. If you notice it after you've already inserted your card, you should alert your bank so they can watch for any fraudulent charges to your account.

6. Identity thieves love travelers and tourists. Scott Stevenson, the founder and CEO of Eliminate ID Theft, an ID-theft-protection company, cautions travelers to be alert to strangers hovering around whenever using a credit card at an ATM or phone, and to avoid public wireless Internet connections unless their laptops or PDAs have beefed-up security protection.

Continued: Out sneak the thieves

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5Comments
1/02/2011 6:06 PM
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would you like to know how wonderful this man is MrKelly. He has set up my children using crooked cops. He was involved in the murder of several people I know personally. And he thinks he can intimidate me using other people who he pays of, some of these people are people who are supposed to be friends. But then I guess a new car, your house paid of, etc must be good for those people.
You think the Madoff case was bad, Madoff wasn't involved in murder, these computer programmers are. That makes them far far worse then Madoff.

1/02/2011 5:54 PM
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and JimKelly(any relation to Ned Kelly?) I expect the banks to have good security so the customers don't have these sort of problems.
And I also Xpect that when a customer tells them there is a problem they look into it. But then I guess, they don't/wont want to because there are those in banks who are profiteering from these frauds

1/02/2011 5:32 PM
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I wish it made a difference whether I use a debit or credit account. You should have seen what they did to my GE account. Every time i reported that there was a problem, I was told that there was no discrepancy, i wish i had kept all the paperwork. The year was 2003 and not many people knew about these types of fraud back then. In the last few years people have become more aware of what is going on.
The people I am speaking about actually ALTER the information from the inside. Try proving to a bank you havent made a transaction. Other than knowing exactly where you were that minute when the transaction was made, its impossible to.
But I have enough proof at my disposal now.
I want the bastard arrested and not just put away for fraud but for murder.The best part is when he was stealing money from CBA here in Australia, he is good with advertising, he even sent out a pamphlet that said, catch us if you can. Its not just my accounts, he has accessed my family members accounts as well.

1/02/2011 4:55 PM
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Then another good measure, save the debit transactions to a select few people or places. Banks do not care about your money, but they do care about their money. So, I use also a VISA credit card fo 98% of transactions, then, make sure I pay it off every month so no interest paid, and, I am using the banks money, not mine with my debit.

Hope this helps !

1/02/2011 4:53 PM
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All good advice, but make sure to also keep your credit reports frozen unless you plan on applying for credit. Then re-freeze them. This also keeps the offers down as well, as very few can access frozen credit reports. Some states it is even free to freeze and unfreeze. But even for a fee, the fee is much smaller than ID theft costs, or even those protection offers you see all over. Too, not quite frozen, but one can also put fraud alerts as well, another securing method, although not as secure as freezing.
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