As many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Identity thieves may use your personal information to access your financial accounts, open credit cards, even rent an apartment in your name. Here are tips from the FTC, National Consumers League and Gibson Research on avoiding identity theft:
Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. They could lead to legitimate-looking websites aimed at tricking you into entering your Social Security number, user name or account passwords. Also, don't give out financial or account information to unsolicited callers, even if they say they're from your bank.
Get off mailing lists for pre-approved credit offers. These lists are a "gold mine" for identity thieves, said the National Consumers League. Call (888) 5-OPTOUT ( 567-8688) or go to http://www.optoutprescreen.com to remove your name from national lists. You will have to provide your Social Security number.
Don't put your full date of birth on Facebook, or anywhere else online. If you want your friends to know your birthday, use only the month and day, not the year. Date of birth is one of the key pieces of information that many companies use to confirm identity.
Use long passwords. According to Gibson Research, a password that is 10 characters is vastly harder to crack than one that's nine characters, provided it is not a real word. The best thing to do is use a mix of letters, numbers and characters, like this: !co4D4)f%z.
Shred charge receipts, financial account statements, insurance forms, medical bills and other items with personal information when it's time to throw them away. ID thieves have been known to look through trash for account numbers and other identifying information, the FTC warned.