Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
Some statistics suggest that the average person in the Western world is more likely to become a victim of identity theft than a victim of the old fashioned style of mugging where the criminal holds a weapon to you to steal your valuables.
Phishing is as the name sounds: Criminals fishing for your personal information so they can access your financial or personal information. The most common type is an email that looks like it comes from your trusted financial institution asking you to reply with information like your credit card number, social security or social insurance number, your online banking password or other sensitive information. The provided information is used to steal your money electronically.
Protect yourself by never responding. If you're unsure, contact the institution directly using the number provided by a phone book search or online search directly from the institute's website. Do not contact the numbers provided with the email.
Shred Bills and Financial Statements
Some criminals will go through your garbage looking for any papers with your personal information on it. They're especially interested in anything with your name or address or banking or bill account numbers. Shred these statements before throwing them out. Ideally a cross-cutting shredder is better because it cuts the paper into smaller pieces. Standard shredders only shred the paper into fairly wide strips that can be taped together by a resourceful thief.
Be sure to shred junk mail as well because this will contain your name and address.
Identity thieves still go the supposedly "old fashioned" route of stealing wallets. You can reduce the chance of providing thieves with useful information by removing all unnecessary items from your wallet. Do not carry your social security card or social insurance card in your wallet. Also, never write your pin number down or leave it in your wallet. Limit the credit cards you carry.
Photocopy all documents in your wallet so you know exactly what's in there if someone steals it.
It's also a good idea to make sure you have a secure mailbox. Thieves have been known to steal bills and other documents directly from mailboxes even though doing so is a federal offense.
Monitor Your Credit Score
Be pro-active and monitor your credit score and get a credit report from the credit report bureau in your area. Some allow you a free report every few months or on specific months.
Keep an eye on your bank statements so you'll notice unauthorized transactions as soon as possible. If you notice anything, contact your bank immediately.