Preventing identity theft should be the greatest concern of consumers in the digital age. Identity thieves misappropriate personal information and use it for their own financial gain, in the process doing great damage to the victim's credit. Everyone who has any sort of financial account should know how to prevent identity theft.
Securing your behavior
Identity thieves are expert con artists. They may contact you by phone or Internet and represent themselves as someone who would have a legitimate need for your information--your bank or credit card company, for instance. Legitimate companies are wise to this and will never ask you for such information. If someone does, get off the phone and call the company from a confirmed number, such as one looked up in a telephone book, or if it is convenient go in person to a local branch. Then discuss the situation with a company representative.
Web sites can also misrepresent themselves. The user clicks on a link in an email, a message or the result of a search and is sent to a page that looks just like the pages used by a bank or other firm, with the usual forms for your user name and password. The difference is that when you submit the form, your information is transmitted to an identity thief. To prevent this sort of thing, always access important accounts by typing the URL into the address bar. If you find a page that you suspect is a scam, contact the company by phone, in person or through an email address you know to be good.
Securing your documents
The most direct way a thief can get your information is by stealing your wallet. A random mugging or purse snatching makes it very easy for the perpetrator to steal your identity, particularly if your social security card is in your wallet. Never leave home with more ID and credit cards than you will need on that particular trip, and never ever write pin numbers on debit cards or on a scrap of paper kept in your wallet.
Some thieves bypass the confrontation of taking your wallet from you. They go through your trash and check each piece of paper for useful numbers. To thwart these so-called dumpster divers, shred or burn any paper with an account number or anything of the sort on it.
Even more resourceful thieves get to your mail before you do. They file a change of address and wait for your documents to come to them. If your mail stops entirely for no apparent reason, contact your post office immediately.
The security of firms you do business
The one weak link in the whole chain of identity security is the point of purchase. Here you have to either hand over your card, swipe it through a reader or enter its information by telephone or the Internet. If a business requires you to physically give them your card to be processed, keep your eyes on it the whole time until it is back in your hand to prevent some unscrupulous person from swiping it through more than the business's reader. If you swipe it, as at a gas pump or an ATM, be familiar with the appearance of the unit, since thieves frequently attach skimmers to read your card at the same time the ATM does. Try to deal with units in businesses that are open all night or those that have external CCTV cameras aimed at them, as it is harder to attach a skimmer to these unobserved. In all cases, make sure no one can see the pin number you enter.
Most national governments provide information on how to prevent identity theft. The drain that such activities on their national economies is a growing problem not just for the consumer but for society at large. Preventing identity theft is in everyone's interest.