How to protect yourself from identity theft.

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10 Useful Tips

  1. Burn or shred, with a cross shredder, any mail or financial papers with your personal information on it. Never recycle them.
  2. Call 1-888-5OPTOUT and ask to stop credit card companies from sending pre-approved credit card applications to your house. They are ticking identity theft time bombs.
  3. Ask your credit card firm to cease delivery of "convenience checks." They, too, are ticking time bombs.
  4. You're entitled to one free credit report each year. Get it as soon as possible and review it carefully.
  5. Order a credit report a month or more before you make a big purchase or apply for credit, to be sure there are no surprises in your history.
  6. Hassle companies that ask for personal information, such as your phone number at a checkout line. The harder we make it on companies, the less they will be inclined to continue the practice.
  7. It's impossible to tell what's real and what's fake online. Just delete any e-mail that asks for personal information.
  8. Just hang up on telemarketers, particularly ones who seem to be fishing for personal information, like your birthday.
  9. Limit the number of credit cards you hold, and religiously inspect your financial statements each month. Consumer rights quickly fade over time; the sooner you discover an identity theft incident, the better.
  10. Most of the time, you can't prevent an ID theft incident from occurring, because two-thirds of the time, some company that leaked the data is to blame. So be prepared, and be organized. Save paper bank records for a year, at least. You'll need them to prove your account balance in the event of a ID theft incident.

What to do when your ID has been stolen

Step 1:

Protect your finances - Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Get a copy of your credit report, which is free to ID theft victims. Ask that your file be flagged with a "fraud alert tag" and a "victim's statement." That will limit the thief's ability to open new credit accounts, as new creditors will call you before granting credit, generally. Insist, in writing, that the fraud alert remain in place for seven years, the maximum, according to

Credit bureaus: Equifax 1-800-525-6285

Experian 1-888-397-3742

TransUnion 1-800-680-7289

Step 2:

File a police report - You will need a police report to dispute unauthorized charges and for any insurance claims. Be persistent; your local police department may suggest that this isn't necessary, because they don't want the paperwork hassle. Also, fill out an online ID Theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or call 1-877-ID-THEFT. That enters your case in the FTC's "Consumer Sentinel" database, a nationwide list of ID theft cases which can be used by law enforcement officers to find patterns and catch criminals.

Step 3:

Close all compromised accounts - The list may be wider than you realize. This includes accounts with banks, credit card companies and other lenders, and phone companies, utilities, ISPs, and other service providers. Dispute all unauthorized charges - The FTC offers a sample dispute letter on its Web site. Disputes may require a sworn statement and a police report. The FTC also offers a form affidavit which can be used for the sworn statement at FTC - Credit Affidavit.

More Info..

When bad things happen to your good name

FTC document full of sample dispute letters and other recovery procedures.

ID theft laws vary by state, here's a list of state laws.

Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice ID Theft page.



  • Use combinations of upper- and lowercase characters, as well as symbols and numbers. Most hackers focus on commonly used words in dictionary databases.
  • Pick long words. The more characters, the harder it is to hack. Combine two unusual, long words around a special character, e.g. labyrinthine;gesticulate.
  • Use the first letter of each word from a favorite saying, song lyric or poem. So "Somewhere over the Rainbow" becomes SOTR or sOtR.
  • Use foreign language words. Combining a foreign language word and an English word is even more effective.


  • Use a word that appears in a common dictionary.
  • Use a common word that simply ends with a special character or a number (Super1 or Flash$). Hackers are aware of this trick.
  • Use the same password multiple times. Your debit and credit cards should not have the same PIN numbers, for example: Use a series, either forwards or backwards (i.e., ABCDEF 654321)
  • Use common keyboard sequences like QWERTY
  • Use an easily guessed word like your name or any variation of it.
  • Use something that people might be able to guess from your wallet if it's stolen, like your child's name or your favorite sports team.

Source: MSNBC research; Rick Smith, author of 'Authentication from Passwords to Public Keys'