Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Protect yourself before you become a victim.

If you turn on the television or read a newspaper, you are more than likely familiar with the phenomenon of identity theft. This is when a person or criminal organization steals your personal financial data. The identity thieves then use this information to run up your credit card bill, order new credit cards or even apply for a mortgage. While you should be concerned about identity theft you shouldn’t be paranoid. Learning a few simple ways to avoid identity theft will leave you well protected.

Destroy Personal Documents

As strange as it may sound to a law-abiding citizen, identity thieves aren’t above raiding your trashcan or dumpster to get your personal information. When you throw away documents with sensitive personal information on it, make sure that you have adequately destroyed the document so that thieves can’t use it. This includes credit card and bank statements as well as anything with your Social Security number on it. Tearing a piece of paper in half is not enough; either rip each document up several times by hand, or invest in a shredder.

Keep Your Information Private

Never provide anyone with your Social Security or credit card numbers unless you have to. While you can, of course, trust your spouse and other close family members with this information in the case of an emergency, no one should have this information unless it is absolutely necessary.

Beware of the Phone

If a stranger approached you on the street and asked for your credit card information you would almost certainly not tell them. However, many people are quick to give out their credit card information over the phone to callers who do not provide credentials. If something sounds strange, ask for contact information for the company and tell them to contact you by mail. Research the company and if it sounds fishy, give a call to your state attorney general. Always be suspicious of someone calling you and asking for information that he should already have, such as a bank representative asking for your bank account number.

Shop Safely Online

The Internet makes shopping easier than ever. However, it also opens you up to new dangers, such as identity theft. It is no coincidence that the explosion of identity theft has corresponded with increased e-commerce. Don’t throw your computer out the window or stop shopping online. Make sure that any time you send your credit card information that you do it through a secure site. You will know that the site is secure because the URL will begin with “https://” or “shttp://” rather than the normal “http://.” Never send sensitive information through emails, as this is not a secure form of communication.

Monitor Your Credit Report

You are entitled to a copy of your credit report from each major credit-reporting agency free of charge once every year. Closely monitoring your credit report will allow you to see any changes in your credit report fast. You can also pay for services that keep an eye on your credit report for you. These services will alert you when there is potentially fraudulent activity on your credit report. This is of particular interest to people who have had their security compromised, such as people who have had credit cards or private information stolen.

Secure Your Mail

Identity thieves aren’t above going into your mailbox and stealing your personal information directly. Always collect your mail promptly from your mailbox. If you’re not going to be around for a few days, go down to the post office and ask them to hold onto your mail while you are away. This will make sure that no one raids your mailbox when you are on vacation.

Protect Your PIN

Never share your PIN with anyone that you wouldn’t share your Social Security number with. When you go to an ATM, cover the keypad when you enter your PIN. You’ll want to do this because of card skimming. This occurs when thieves load a special device into an ATM that collects information from the magnetic strip on your credit or debit card. A small camera is often used to collect your PIN as well. If you cover the keypad when you enter your pin you can at least deny the identity thieves a look at your PIN.

Conclusion

There are no magic bullets when attempting to avoid identity theft. Rather, there are a number of common-sense procedures to follow all the time. While this won’t make you entirely protected from identity theft, it will make you a whole lot safer. Make each of these practices second nature and you will have a lot less to worry about.