Foiling Identity Thieves

May 29, 2009
Special Feature

Law enforcement officials predict that the total number of victims this year will be far higher than the 8.1 million recorded two years ago, as scammers kick it into high gear.

One of the many downsides to the current economic quagmire is an explosion in the incidence of identity theft. Law enforcement officials are predicting that the total number of victims this year will be far higher than the 8.1 million recorded two years ago, as scammers kick it into high gear. To avoid becoming a victim, the Federal Trade Commission suggests some basic steps you can take to protect yourself.

The most crucial tactic to thwart identity thieves is to guard your Social Security number closely. Don’t give it out unless you’re absolutely sure of who you’re giving it to and how it will be used. Many experts suggest that you shouldn’t even carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Most insurance companies and state governments no longer use Social Security numbers for identification, but if your health insurance card or driver’s license has your SSN on it, ask to have it changed.

Another basic step is to shred financial documents like bank statements and credit card statements before you toss them. For advanced, preemptive damage control, tell your credit card company to stop sending you those convenience checks in the mail - they’re a juicy target for crooks. Other tips: Never click on a link in an unsolicited e-mail, even if it appears like a legitimate message from your bank or credit-card company. You should also review your credit report for suspicious activity; by law, you can get a free credit report once a year. To avoid getting sent to a bogus free-report website, however, it’s best to go through the FTC to access the free credit report site.