Shredders in the kitchen and other useful tips

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Sure, we're always writing about identity theft, but it's almost National Consumer Protection week (during the week of March 2-8), and so I figured I ought to check in with fraud prevention expert Judd Rousseau, COO of Identity Theft 911, and see if he has any useful information on protecting oneself. And what do you know? He does. Rousseau offers these five tips for avoiding having your identity stolen, and you know, they're pretty interesting:

If you have one shredder, it belongs in your -- kitchen? Yep. A Staples study found that most junk mail ends up in the kitchen trash, not in the office.

Don't pay money to get money. According to Rousseau, the most common scams right now involve asking consumers to wire money for complex, convoluted and even occasionally believable reasons, and for the consumer's trouble, they will, of course, get a much larger amount in return.

Opt-out of pre-approved offers. You knew about the Do Not Call list. Well, if you call 888-5-OPT-OUT, you can dramatically reduce the number of credit card offers you receive in the mail. For those you do receive, go to the kitchen shredder. (I will be a responsible parent now and will say that if anyone does decide to put their shredder in the kitchen, keep it unplugged and away from kids. This will also save you, one groggy morning before you've had your coffee, from accidentally shredding the toast and buttering your junk mail. It could happen.)

Check your credit reports regularly. OK, you knew that, but what about checking your kids' credit, or your aging parents? After all, scam artists tend to target seniors and children.

Go to ConsumerAffairs.com. Why? They have a cheat sheet on last year's top ten scams of 2007. That way you can get a sense of what the con artists are trying. Really this list of scams is fascinating reading, and it's scary what they'll try, from fake lotteries to even sending e-greeting cards that, when you click on it, you wind up giving a hacker access to your hard drive.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine, and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale, 2007).

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