The Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB) and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) are encouraging consumers and small business owners across the country to fight identity theft by taking part in the 3rd Annual Protect Your Identity Week (PYIW), October 17-23.
Identity theft continues to be a growing problem: The number of victims in the US reached 11.1 million in 2009, a 12.5 percent increase over the previous year, according to Javelin Strategy and Research.
Threats abound both online and offline and no one is completely safe, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself against identity theft and limit the damage.
- Determine your personal risk of identity theft. Take the self-assessment quiz at ProtectYourIDNow.org (available in Spanish at cuidesuidentidad.org). The site has great tips and links to articles covering all aspects of identity theft.
- Be careful what you put on your resume. DO NOT include your social security number, date of birth, driver's license number, reason you left a past employer or even marital status on a resume. Some advice claims you shouldn't include the year you graduated. Read the full list of resume no no's here: Identity Theft Prevention Tips for Job Seekers
- Be vigilant on social networking sites. Don't put too much information in your profile, like street address or full date of birth. Be aware of privacy controls on sites like Facebook and restrict access to people you don't know. Similarly, don't friend someone you don't know. (Also, with regards to regular theft, it is not wise to post when you will be on vacation or if you were out of the house via an application like 4square).
- Check your credit reports for fraudulent activity. Use AnnualCreditReport.com program to get your free report and make sure there is no activity you were unaware of. Keeping an eye on your credit reports is one of the fastest ways to discover that your identity has been stolen.
- Properly dispose of sensitive documents and equipment. Shred old documents or applications for credit cards you get in the mail. Don't forget your computer contains incredibly valuable information and could probably be easily hacked, so if you get a new one don't throw it out with the rest of your garbage (plus, that's bad for the environment). Find a safe electronic disposal location for mobile phones and computer equipment. The Protect Your Identity Week event will have some.
- Keep safe information SAFE. Do not carry your social security card. Keep it in a safe place where no one else knows about it. Do not write down pin numbers to debit cards and bank accounts and carry them with you. If someone were to pick up your wallet they'd be able to steal your identity.
As part of Protect Your Identity Week, Cintas Corporation is providing free document destruction at events nationwide with the goal of making the Guinness Book of World Records for the most paper shredded in a 24-hour period.
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Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate at ThinkGlink.com and The Equifax Personal Finance Blog, and is Chief Content Strategist at RealtyJoin.com, a community for real estate investors.