You may not be aware that someone is committing fraud or theft using your good name—until you are inexplicably turned down for a mortgage or are harassed by a collection agency.

To minimize your risk . . .

Don’t give anyone your Social Security number, credit card number or any other personal identification number without knowing exactly how it will be used and whether it will be shared with anyone else.

Keep track of your credit card bills and billing cycles. Missing bills could mean that someone has changed your account’s billing address—and taken your account.

Don’t let mail—both outgoing and incoming—linger in your mailbox or anyplace else where it can be picked up by strangers.

Create passwords for all your accounts—bank, credit card, telephone. Passwords should not use easily available information (birth date, phone number, etc.)

Don’t carry your Social Security card with you—keep it in a secure place.

Never give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact—and know who you’re dealing with.

Tear up or shred anything bearing personal information—charge receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards, unsolicited credit offers—before discarding it.

At home, keep personal information where it cannot be found by strangers—particularly if you have hired help or service contractors working in your home.

At work, confirm that only appropriate personnel have access to your personal information—and that it is securely stored.

Everyone is entitled to one free credit report from each credit bureau per year. To receive your free report, go to or call 877-322-8228. The three major credit reporting agencies are:

Equifax Information Services, 800-685-1111 or

Experian, 888-397-3742 or

Trans Union LLC, 800-916-8800 or

Innovis, 800-540-2505 or

To report identify theft, and to find out how to repair the damage if you’ve been a victim, call the Federal Trade Commission toll free at 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338) or enter your complaint via the on-line complaint form located at Also request a free copy of the FTC’s booklet When Bad Things Happen in Your Good Name.

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