What I learned about identity theft when it happened to me

I will probably never know who stole my credit card or how they did it. Since the card never left my wallet, it's most likely that the information was stolen during an Internet transaction. I'd like to be able to say that I used only reputable online retailers during my frenzied holiday shopping, but when I was truly desperate (a toy called the marble run vortex, sold at major retailers, comes to mind...), I ordered via small, obscure companies, if they had the goods I was after.

Police officers have also told me that credit card theft is common at restaurants: Wait staff either copy the information by hand or use a machine that resembles the one used to swipe a credit card to steal credit card data, then they sell the information. According to the privacy rights clearinghouse, nine million people a year report identity theft.

While it's impossible to prevent identity theft, you can reduce the chances of becoming a victim. I found many web sites with info about preventing identity theft. I started by reviewing what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has to say. Below are a few tips:
  • Carry fewer credit cards.
  • Give out your social security number only when necessary.
  • Don't give out your credit card number or social security number unless you're certain the business is reputable. A company called On Guard Online offers tips on being a savvy Internet consumer.
  • Always take your credit card receipt with you after a purchase.
  • Don't choose the same passwords or ones that are easy to figure out for banking and credit accounts.
  • Make sure you store bank and insurance information securely at work or home.
  • Shred mail and documents with credit card information, charge receipts and credit offers.
In addition, you can obtain copies of your credit report on a regular basis by contacting one of the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and Transunion, for more information.
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