What you can do to minimize the odds of becoming an identity theft victim:
* Shred documents with personal information before throwing them away.
* Don't carry your Social Security card or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another form of identification.
* Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you know whom you are dealing with.
* Never click on links in unsolicited emails, and use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer.
* Avoid using obvious passwords like your birth date, mother's maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
* Look for suspicious activity such as bills that do not arrive as expected, statements for unfamiliar credit cards or accounts, and calls or letters about purchases you did not make.
* Review you credit report for unusual activity or errors. You're entitled to a free copy every 12 months. To order one, go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228.
If you are a victim of identity theft:
* Place a "fraud alert" on your credit report through one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies: Experian, 888-397-3742; TransUnion, 800-680-7289; or Equifax, 800-525-6285.
* Contract the security or fraud departments of each company where a fraudulent account was opened or charged. Follow up in writing, and ask for verification that the disputed accounts or charges have been resolved.
* Keep a file on the theft with copies of documents and notes on conversations.