Identity Theft, Part 2: Prevention Methods

Last week we learned about identity theft and some of the ways criminals can steal your identity. This week we share some tips how you can make yourself a harder target and help protect yourself from becoming a victim. Come back next week for part 3 of this series when we’ll share the steps you should take if you suspect (or know) you’re a victim of identity theft.

  • Be smart with your mail! Instead of putting your outgoing mail in your mailbox at home, deposit it in the nearest blue USPS mail box, drop it off inside the post office, or hand it directly to your letter carrier. To protect incoming mail, install a locked mailbox with a slot at your home if possible. Don’t put any outgoing mail in an unguarded “out box” at work. Never write your account number or other private information on the outside of envelopes containing bill payments. If you’re going out of town, have the post office hold your mail for you or have someone you trust pick it up every day.
  • If you use an ATM make sure no one is standing close enough behind you to see your account number or PIN. Always shield your hand and the screen just in case.
  • Never give out your credit card number on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secure site. You can usually identify secure sites by looking for the letters “https” at the beginning of the URL and by looking for the lock icon in your browser. Internet Explorer and Firefox show the lock icon in the bottom corner, but Chrome shows the lock icon next to the address bar. Examples can be seen below.


  • We’ve talked about this before in other blog entries: Examine your credit reports from the major national credit reporting firms at least once a year to make sure no one has established credit in your name or is ruining your credit after stealing your identity. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act requires that each of the three major credit reporting agencies provide consumers with a free credit report once a year. You can obtain your free report(s) by visiting
  • If you have to give out personal or financial information from a public phone or by cell phone, make sure no one is listening or wait until you’re in a more secure location.
  • Shred all financial statements, billing statements, pre-approved credit card offers, etc. Cross cut shredders are best and can be purchased affordably at office supply stores.
  • Carry only one ID card (most likely your driver’s license) and one or two credit cards you use most often. Keep the rest in a secure place at home and only bring them with you when you need to use them.
  • If you haven’t used a credit card in the last six months and you are not carrying a balance on it, cancel it.
  • Write to the Direct Marketing Association and ask them to remove your name from direct mail lists to stop the dangerous flow of preapproved credit card offers to your address.

    Direct Marketing Association
    Mail Preference Service
    PO Box 643
    Carmel, NY 10512

  • When traveling use traveler’s checks instead of personal bank checks.
  • Examine all of your bank and credit card statements each month for mistakes or unfamiliar charges as these can indicate an identity thief at work.
  • Keep track of when your bills and bank statements normally arrive. If one is late, call to find out why.
  • Take advantage of direct deposit if your employer offers this service.
  • When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank rather than having them mailed to your home.
  • Never give out financial or personal information over the phone or on the Internet unless you initiated the contact or know for sure with whom you are dealing. Your bank or credit union will never call you to ask for personal data to update your records. If you’re ever unsure about a phone call, tell the caller you would like to hang up and call the bank or credit union yourself.
  • Memorize your passwords. Never write them down and carry them with you. For even more security, purchase a “thumb drive” and install a program such as KeePass on it. Store all your passwords in KeePass and carry the thumb drive with you. Then you only need to remember the password to KeePass to access all your other passwords.
  • Guard your Social Security number and give it out only when absolutely necessary. Keep the actual card in a safe place at home.
  • If you’re planning to give away, throw away, or donate your used computer, remove and destroy the hard drive first.
  • Lock up your automotive insurance policies at home instead of keeping them in your vehicle. If possible, carry your registration in your wallet or purse.
  • Gentlemen: carry your wallet in your front pocket so a pickpocket can’t take it. Ladies: hold your purse close against your body with your arm through both straps, or choose a cross-body style bag.
  • Burglar-proof your home, then burglar-proof what’s inside your home, especially your financial records and important documents. If you lock up your records and documents in a filing cabinet, make sure it’s too heavy for a thief to simply remove from your home. If you choose to use a safe, select one that uses a combination, is fire-proof, and can be bolted to the floor to prevent removal.

Sources (these links will open in a new window):
The US Justice Department
National Crime Prevention Council

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