Identity theft protection: 12 tips to help consumers

Identity thieves always look for ways to steal your personal information. It seems like hardly a week goes by without hearing about a major data theft or of people who've become victims of this type of crime.

So, how do you protect yourself?

Here are a dozen tips courtesy of several attorneys general, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Crime Prevention Council:

1. Opt out of pre-screened credit offers at or by calling toll-free 888-567-8688. You can opt-out for five years or permanently. The process removes your name from lists provided by consumer credit reporting companies such as Equifax and Experian.

2. Reduce the number of credit cards you have
and use credit cards that have your photo on them.

3. Provide your Social Security number only if absolutely necessary. First ask if you can give a different number instead.

4. Don't have checks or credit cards mailed to you.
Make arrangements to pick them up at the bank instead.

5. Never throw credit card statements or other items with your personal information on it in the trash without shredding it first.

6. Don't use your date of birth, mother's maiden name or last four digits of your Social Security number in passwords.

7. If a bill doesn't arrive when expected, contact the company immediately.

8. When going out of town, arrange to have the post office hold your mail.

9. When paying with a credit card online, only used encrypted web sites.

10. Don't use an ATM machine or credit card reader if you notice something unusual on the machine.
A thief may have placed a device on it to steal your information.

11. Opt for credit instead of debit when paying at the gas station or grocery store in case thieves tamper with the store's or gas station's card reader.
This way thieves don't have access to your bank account.

12. Keep track of your credit card and bank account balances.
Check statements regularly. If you notice any suspicious activity, report it immediately to the institution.

Consumer Ally regularly writes about identity theft issues. Check back for identity theft news and features on other consumers issues.
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