ID theft: Do I really need to worry?

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Even if you do everything right, you could still become a victim to ID theft.

“You can shred documents, be careful about who has access to your info, but at the end of the day, there are many people who could misuse your information,” Tom Oscherwitz of ID Analytics told The Wall Street Journal. ID Analytics develops credit-risk models and offers to give consumers an idea of their risk, using data from its massive network of reported frauds and consumer transactions. Even Oscherwitz, however, says that using the tool should be done along with other tactics.

The Federal Trade Commission says identity theft is the largest consumer complaint in the country. In 2007, 32 percent, or about 258,000 consumer complaints filed with the FTC involved identity theft.

Some tips from the FTC and other experts:

  • Check your credit report. Some say do it annually; other experts say three to four months is enough time to check it and look for anything suspicious.
  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
  • Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet.
  • Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software on your home computer. Don’t click on links in unsolicited e-mails.
  • Beware of wireless connections. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority advises using encryption software at home, removing your network card or shutting off the connection if you leave your computer, and at hot spots, disable wireless ad hoc mode to prevent unknown connections, and disable file and printer sharing capabilities.
  • Use a difficult password, not something obvious like your birth date. Use a minimum of eight letters and numbers and change passwords often.
  • Lock it up. Keep your personal information in a secure place at home. Don’t carry around your Social Security card in your purse or wallet.
  • Be vigilant. If you get a bill that didn’t arrive on time, an unexpected credit card statement, denial of credit, or phone calls about purchases you don’t remember, check it out immediately.
  • Add your name to the national do not call and direct marketing opt-out lists, moves that can reduce bogus solicitations.
  • Don’t forget your stuff. Smart Money magazine reported that business travelers lose half a million laptops in airports every year. Nearly half of them contain personal information, according to data-security research firm the Ponemon Institute.

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