You may have heard some of this before, but even if so, these steps are worth repeating, knowing, learning and doing!
Ten steps to thwarting identity theft:
1. Use different passwords based on the sensitivity of the websites you're using. For example, use complex and longer passwords on your banking and financial sites than you use on your social media sites.
2. Check credit reports from the three big credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) twice per year -- I like to check at different times for each. Address any discrepancies immediately. Also, change your notification preferences so that you are contacted when someone tries to access your information.
3. Cross-shred sensitive documents to minimize dumpster diving threats. A few years ago, I actually caught people digging through dumpsters early in the morning behind a neighboring office building, collecting all the papers they could stuff in their large garbage bag, looking for valuable information!
5. Beware of too-good-to-be-true messages: don't click the links or fill out surveys promising free money, free iPods, iPads, etc. And I mean really, how many people have relatives they've never heard of in countries they've never heard of who would leave them fortunes? Very, very few, if any; just delete that message!
6. Always use reputable, secured websites. Research a company's reputation on the web by searching for the company's name and "complaint" or "scam."
7. Cookies are often used when doing transactions on sites, but if you aren't buying anything, turn off cookies whenever possible.
8. Remove your name from credit reporting agency and credit company promotional/marketing lists (1-888-5-OPT-OUT).
9. Be safe online and don't post any more information than necessary -- birth date, workplace, address. If you really want someone to wish you happy birthday consider putting a different month, day and year; you'll still get the well wishes, just on a different day, which would still be okay!
10. Carefully review financial and medical statements to check for unknown line items. Be sure to look for small transactions, often around $15 or $25. Fraudsters often commit their deviant crimes a little bit here and a little bit there and no one catches them, but it accumulates to quite a large pot of gold for them!
... and just for luck, a bonus tip:
11. Give yourself an online audit. Search for your name, phone number, family members, email address, etc. Set up Google alerts for your name and check social networking sites for accounts with your name.