How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Given all the attention that identity theft has been getting from the mainstream media, I thought I’d spend a little time talking about steps that you can take to protect yourself against identity theft. Yes, it’s mostly just common sense, but we can all use a reminder now and then. Please feel free to pitch in with your own ideas…

Use strong (and unique) passwords:

Use different passwords for every account, and avoid using easily available information such as your mother’s maiden name, your birthday, part of your social security number, your phone number, your street address, a series of consecutive numbers, etc.

You should also make your passwords lengthy — 8 characters minimum, even better if it’s 12+. And be sure to combine upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Using letters and/or numbers only makes it easier to break, and thus you need to make it even longer if you choose to do so.

If you’re curious about what makes for a good password, check out one of these password checkers: Microsoft or Surveillance-Video (there are many others). And don’t write your passwords down! Yes, they’re hard to remember. That’s why I use a password encryption program to store everything on my PowerBook.

Secure your personal information:

Keep sensitive information away from prying eyes (roommates, service people, potential buyers when selling a home, etc.). Lock up financial statements and other sensitive documents in a filing cabinet, drop off outgoing mail that contains sensitive info in a secure USPS mailbox, and be sure to pick up your mail promptly.

Opt out of everything that you can and, when travelling, have your mail held until you return. Shred your credit card receipts, all credit offers (tearing them up doesn’t necessarily work), insurance paperwork, bank statements, etc.

Think carefully before writing a paper check to unknown individuals, don’t include unnecessary information on your checks, and take care when ordering new checks.

This should go without saying, but don’t give out personal information on the phone or over the internet unless you’re the one that initiated the contact. Don’t respond to unsolicited offers. If you’re interested in a particular soliciation, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate entity – manually type their url into the address bar of your browser (it’s easy to cloak web addresses in e-mails) or call customer service using a known contact number (from your statement, the back of your credit card, etc.).

Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet, and don’t give out your SSN unless absolutely necessary. Ask to use something besides your SSN on your driver’s license and insurance cards, and don’t include your SSN or driver’s license number on checks. Don’t carry extraneous credit cards when you go out, and don’t leave your purse our wallet lying around (like at work).

On the computer:

Keep your operating systems, anti-virus software, and anti-spyware programs up-to-date. If you want to avoid many of the headaches associated with viruses and spyware, use a Mac… I’m only partly kidding when I say this — I use a Mac and pretty much never have to think about such things (though that might eventually change). Use a firewall, or even turn off file-sharing to prevent network access to your computer. Only submit sensitive information over secure connections (look for the little lock icon in your browser window) and don’t allow your browser to save your important passwords – instead, store them in a secure encryption program.

Monitor your credit report:

As many of you know, you are now entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus (go here for immediate access). I recommend spreading these out over the course of the year and checking one every four months such that you can detect problems as they occur. I personally wouldn’t bother with any of the paid credit monitoring services out there.

So what else can you think of? Please leave a comment if you have any further suggestions.

2 Responses to “How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft”

  1. Anonymous

    we have a federal case in the eastern district of michigan 07-12584, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It involves both governments and crony identity thefts, overcharges, records fraud, to ruin individual citizens, robbing them, blacklisting them and if we cannot find reasonable accomodations due to our disabilities to have adequate legal proceedures, we will be collected and siezed at will, on debts that rightfully do not belong to us, due to our inability to state which laws we are trying to protect ourselves under. Every account we have has been hit. We are now pulled over at will by law enforcement to issue false services, harrass, coerce, threaten, with zero proper responses by government, judges, districts and these levels of racketeering and extortion model those of the Third Reich. Fifth Third Bank (and they are not alone), have been and shall continue to conspire against employees, business’, housholds, mortgages, checking and savings deposits, direct deposits and have been doing it under the disguise of the Patriot Act. Understand this, if the governments and banks “decide” to rob you, you are finished, this is our eyewitness testimony and as testimony herein, the sworn testimony of more than two witnesses. To permit these ilegal acvtivities upon the citizens and then to create a false record and a government protected right to share those false records cannot, is not and shall not be the law of the United States of America and their exists no socialist doctrine to give such powers to ruin, to the governments, their districts, or their cronies perfomrong these classified, privatised activities, without habeus corpus, against all readers of this blog, at-will. Stand up and share our testimonies and stand against these harms. Thank You
    E.C. Aumueller

  2. Anonymous

    Good identity theft summary suggestions. Your writings are consistently informative and accurate – nice going.

    I saw an interesting article you may be interested in by Ron Lieber in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago (and clipped it) that discussed the option for many people to freeze their credit accounts at all three credit reporting agencies. I haven’t done it yet but am seriously considering it – author Lieber did it and it sounds pretty easy. There are some wrinkles involved with unlocks for legit credit checks but this sounds like a way to really control those sacred credit histories.

    Keep up the good writing!

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