According to the Federal
as many as 10 million
Americans have their
identity stolen each year. Many
people do not realize how easily
criminals can obtain personal
data without having to break into
someone’s home. For example,
while out in public, criminals often
watch potential victims from a
nearby location. They listen as you
give your credit card number over
the phone or watch as you enter
your PIN number during a debit
card transaction. They even go
through your garbage cans at
home to obtain copies of checks,
credit card and bank statements
or other records that include your
With enough information, a criminal can take over an individual’s identity and
commit a wide variety of crimes. To prevent this from happening to you, the
following checklist offers some tips to help you ensure your identity remains
• Don’t give out your personal information to others unless you have a reason
to trust them.
• Adopt a “need to know” approach to your personal information. For example,
your credit card company may need to know your mother’s maiden name,
so it can verify your identity when you call to inquire about your account.
However, if a person from the credit card company calls you and asks for that
information, do not give it to them. Instead, call the credit card company
yourself using the number on the back of your card, not the number the
person on the phone gives you, and contact them that way. If they are in
fact trying to contact you, they will get you to the person you need to talk to.
• Do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or
passport in your wallet or purse except when needed. Store your purse or
wallet in a safe place at work.
• When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank. Don’t have them
mailed to your home. If you have a post office box, use that address on your
checks rather than your home address so thieves will not know where you live.
• Don’t include your Social Security number or phone number on your checks.
The more personal data you routinely hand out to people, the easier it is for
criminals to steal your identity.
• Keep a list or photocopy of all your credit cards, bank accounts and
investments in a secure place so that you can quickly contact these companies
in case your credit cards have been stolen or accounts are used fraudulently.
• If you are traveling, have your mail held at your local post office, or ask
someone you trust to collect your mail while you are away.