Worried about someone stealing your identity? Here are 10 tips to reduce your risk of identity theft.

  1. Secure your personal information. Guard your mail, shred and destroy bills, carry only the information you need, and use effective passwords for your financial accounts.

  2. Protect your social security number. Don’t carry your social security card, request alternate identification numbers, and don’t use your social security number as a password.

  3. Tell companies not to sell or share your data. Make sure you call 888-5-opt-out to stop creditors from sending pre-approved offers. Then, opt out of information sharing at your bank and other financial services policies.

  4. No “phishing” or “pharming.” Never reply to an email or pop up message that asks for personal information like account numbers or passwords and never click on the link to these messages.

  5. Be careful on the internet. Never use your debit card, deal only with reputable companies, check privacy and security policies of websites and be sure to install firewalls and virus-detection software on your computers and keep them updated daily.

  6. Keep track of your financial accounts. Check during the month for fraudulent charges and report suspicious changes immediately. Be sure to get your statements on time and make sure you call your creditor if your bill doesn’t arrive. Going online with your statements can help.

  7. Monitor your credit report. Use www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus each year (it’s the only website you can get this on.), check for errors, and look for new active accounts or debts that do not belong to you.

  8. Take control over your credit. If you’ve been victimized by identity theft, and you live in Illinois, California, Maine, Vermont, or Texas, you can put a credit freeze on your credit history. But if you’re in the military, no matter where you live, you can place an active duty alert on your credit file. You can also place a fraud alert on your account that requires creditors to take additional steps to verify an applicant’s identity before issuing credit in your name.

  9. Demand strong protections. Just say “no” if someone asks you for personal information that seems unnecsesary for the transaction. Don’t let anyone take your credit card someplace you can’t see, even for a moment. Talk to your employer about what policies it uses to protect your identity.

  10. Be active. Write your congressional representative to request tougher laws that better protect consumer’s personal information.

These tips come from the Illinois State Public Interest Research Group (Illinois PIRG).

Need more information? Visit:

www.ftc.gov (Federal Trade Commission),

www.illinoispirg.org (Illinois State Public Interest Research Group),

or contact your state’s Attorney General’s office.

NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted, resyndicated or redistributed without written permission from the publisher.