Although I have never been a victim of identity theft, a very close friend of mine was. I can attest to the sheer agony fixing all of the damage entailed for her, and ever since witnessing her ordeal I have been especially careful to take steps ensuring that I do not fall victim to identity theft. Some of these steps might seem like a bit of a pain, but I can assure you this inconvenience pales to the suffering caused should someone get a hold of your identity. The most effective basic steps you can take in order to protect yourself are:
1. Check Your Credit Report
Your best line of defense is to be fluent with what is in your credit report, and to check it often. The earlier you catch possible identify theft — the easier it is to fix it.
2. Protect Your Social Security Number
Only give out your social security number when absolutely necessary. Only give out your social security number to the most trusted of institutions.
3. Shred Financial Documents
Identify theft often starts with documents which thieves pick out of your garbage. Shred all credit card statements, bank statements, brokerage statements, etc prior to throwing them out.
4. Use Encryption
Criminals often steal the financial information of others online. You can help protect yourself against this by encrypting all sensitive data on your hard drive and within your emails. This sounds more complex than it really is — a simple online search will pull up ample sources which explain how to do this in simple terms.
Failure to take the four above steps can lead to your identity being stolen — and myriad hours of work, annoyance and frustration when trying to fix it.