ID Theft occurs when criminals use your personal information to make purchases, take out loans or commit other forms of fraud. Victims of ID Theft usually aren't held liable for crimes committed in their names, but they can spend months - even years - repairing their finances and credit history. The more proactive you are about preventing ID Theft, the less chance you'll fall victim.
Beware of calls from companies with names that sound like government agencies or well-known organizations as well as those claiming you've won a prize when you never entered a contest.
Never give anyone your Social Security or credit card numbers to purchase products or qualify for prizes, especially if you didn't initiate the call. Ask for written information on the offer and ask for references.
Add yourself to the national Do-Not-Call registry at donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222.
If things sound too good to be true, they probably are.
Sign the back of new credit cards immediately.
Cancel unused credit cards, but spread cancellations out over time so your credit score doesn't suffer (based on your total credit availability).
Check your Social Security Earnings and benefits statement once a year to make sure no one else is piggy-backing on this information for employment purposes.
If you're a fraud victim, set up free alerts through one of the bureaus. These alerts will last 90 days. Alerts are renewable, but credit bureaus may not allow continuous renewals if you're trying to use them as a credit monitoring tool.
Freeze your credit. A recent law allows you to freeze your credit, preventing criminals from opening new accounts in your name. Check out the latest Credit Freeze Protection information and consider setting one up on your credit file.
Identity and credit fraud are now hitting closer to home - your kids. Criminals are now targeting children, and sometimes parents don't discover it until their kids are older and apply for credit. Think about requesting credit reports for your kids as you would for yourself.
Review your statements and look for transactions with strange payees or amounts you don't recognize; let your financial institution know right away.
Check your credit report regularly. You can order one free report per year from each credit bureau (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) (that's 3 free reports per year). Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to get started. Make sure each bureau's credit information about you is correct; if not, request a correction.
If you stop receiving mail or if it's been tampered with, contact the post office right away. You should remove mail from your mailbox every day (consider signing up for electronic statements) and, when possible, send outgoing mail from the post office only. Thoroughly shred mail - especially credit card bills, statements, and offers for preapproved credit - before you throw it away.