The Complete Identity Protection Program
Don't carry your social security card in your wallet. If a company utilizes your social security number as your customer number, ask them to change it. Avoid giving out your social security number unless it is absolutely necessary - such as to a government organization or when obtaining a new job - and always ask why providing your social security number is required.
If someone posing as a bank, store or other enterprise contacts you to provide or verify sensitive information such as account numbers or passwords, be wary. Legitimate companies do not request this type of information through solicitations. If you receive such a request, contact (or visit if possible) the bank, company or website directly and verify why the information is required. Do not directly reply to (or link from) an email, phone call or letter requesting sensitive data - even if it seems legitimate - as this could potentially send your information right into the hands of scammers.
Use a micro-cut, cross-cut or "confetti" shredder to dispose of bank statements, credit card bills, convenience checks, old credit cards and other items with personal information. Scammers use these items to open new accounts in your name or withdraw on your existing accounts.
Make a phone list of your credit card issuers (usually found on the back of each card) and store in a safe place. In the event that your cards are lost or stolen, having these phone numbers will enable you to contact the card issuer quickly, minimizing your liability. Also, be sure to shred any "pre-approved" card offers before disposing of them. You can minimize the number of pre-approved offers you receive by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688). Finally, never write your full credit card number on a check. Instead, write "ends in" and then the last 4 digits of your card number. This is all companies need to match you to your payment.
Be sure to collect your mail as soon as possible. A box bulging with letters, bills and catalogs are an identity thief's dream - and your worst nightmare. If you are not able to pick up your mail for an extended period of time, have a neighbor collect it or request that the post office hold it for you. Bring any outgoing mail to the post office or drop it into a secure drop box - placing bill payments in your personal mailbox can provide identity thieves easy access to all the information they need to start racking up fraudulent charges in your name. If you must place outgoing mail in your box, do not raise your mailbox's flag - your letter carrier will know to collect your outgoing mail even if the flag isn't used.
When disposing of an old computer, be sure to wipe or destroy the hard drive first. Properly wiping the data from a hard drive requires special software, as simply deleting files - and even formatting the drive - leaves your data intact enough that even a novice thief could recover your information. If you do not have the adequate "wiping" program, then remove your hard drive from the system and destroy it... open the old drive, tear it apart, scratch and break the hard disk, etc. The key is to sufficiently destroy the disc and its contents to render them completely unrecoverable.
Computer passwords should be at least 8 characters, utilizing a combination of letters and numbers. Protect your computer with a firewall and spyware detection and virus protection software. Update and run spyware detection and virus protection software at least once a month. Do not open emails or files - or click on hyperlinks - that come from unknown sources.