Identity Theft Prevention Checklist

Identity theft affects millions of Americans each year. You don't want to be one of them. Here's what you can do to safeguard your personal information.

  1. Check Protect your Social Security number and card.

    Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or put your number on your checks. Disclose it only when absolutely necessary, using other types of ID whenever possible. If your current driver’s license includes your Social Security number, ask to substitute another number. The same goes for your health insurance policy.

  2. Check Buy a shredder.

    Some identity thieves go Dumpster-diving to retrieve personal information. Always tear up receipts, old credit card statements, and other personal documents; running them through a shredder is even better. Deposit all outgoing mail in secure mailboxes, preferably at a post office.

  3. Check Set up secure locations for personal information.

    At home, have a safe or a lockable file cabinet in which you can store sensitive material. While you’re at work, stow your purse or wallet in a desk drawer or a cabinet. One with a lock is best.

  4. Check Edit your wallet.

    Don’t cram your wallet with charge cards. Take only what you need for the day, whether that’s a driver’s license, a checkbook, or a credit or debit card.

  5. Check Get fraud alert.

    Most credit card companies offer fraud protection, some for free and others for a slight fee. These programs alert you when there are any abnormal purchases or activity on your account.

  6. Check Consider a credit freeze.

    A credit freeze prevents credit card companies and other third parties from viewing your credit report. It gives you a little more protection than a fraud alert, but also a little less leeway: You’ll need to lift the freeze if you want to apply for a loan or a credit card.

  7. Check Create intricate passwords.

    Passwords that include the last four digits of your Social Security number, your graduation date, or your maiden name may be easy to memorize, but they’re also easy to crack. Use a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters to create a fool-proof password, and alter it for every online account you have.

  8. Check Make them clever too.

    Come up with a phrase and use the first letter of each word, a special character and a number as your password. For example: “I graduated from Central High School number 1.” Password: “igfchs#1.” And for each Web site, change the number or a character, or add letters corresponding to the particular website. So when you visit, say,, your password would be “taigfchs#1.”

  9. Check Set up a PayPal account.

    If you’re an avid online shopper, register your information with this secure third-party service and you won’t need to disclose it to other sites. Accepted by most of the biggest online retailers, such as and, PayPal also offers around-the-clock fraud monitoring.

  10. Check Think about insurance.

    Although identity theft insurance does not decrease the risk of theft, it may be a good option for you. An insurance policy can provide some assistance in the identity rebuilding process.