You know what was one of the leading gifts this past holiday season? A paper shredder. Yep. It seems that everyone is getting more and more concerned about identity theft, something that I've written about a number of times before.

Keep in mind that almost every day, someone writes a check, uses a credit card to buy something on line, uses an ATM machine, or engages in some other act of information sharing that could easily open the gates wide to identity theft. I even heard one man on the train the other night ordering pizza by cell phone, nice and loud mind you, so that everyone was aware of what a sophisticated person he was. Order pizza and pick it up as soon as he gets off the train. Can't wait an extra 10 minutes. Time is so precious. He let us know how important time was to him, but he also let us know his credit card number when ordering. Now, how's that for stupidity?

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling has just issued a list of tips to reduce the risk of identity theft and while they don't claim it is foolproof, they do acknowledge that it may help reduce the chances of becoming a victim. And here they are:

  • Never give out personal or account information in response to a phone or e-mail query unless it is part of a transaction that you initiated. Identity thieves usually go for personal identification numbers, Social Security numbers, and account numbers.
  • Open credit card and other bills promptly and reconcile receipts and accounts. Just because your credit card or ATM card is still in your wallet doesn't mean that you're not at risk for identity theft.
  • Treat paper and electronic mail carefully. "Dumpster diving," or the act of rummaging through trash, is a way thieves can obtain personal information--thus, the shredder.
  • Deposit outgoing mail in secured mailboxes. Shred those charge receipts, credit applications, bills, bank statements, and other documents bearing personal information. Be careful about using a personal computer or laptop to store personal information.
  • For that matter, update virus protection software regularly and use both a firewall and secure browser.
  • Check credit reports with the three major credit bureaus once a year. Remember you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. Take a look at www.annualcreditreport.com.

In short, you need to become a cautious guardian of your personal information. This means following a series of common sense steps to guard your financial privacy such as signing new credit and debit cards immediately when they arrive, keeping a record of account numbers, expiration dates, phone numbers, and addresses of each company in a secure location with limited access and not--repeat, not--carrying your Social Security card with you. Keep that in the secure location. You should know the number.As an aside, notice that when you are traveling by bus, plane, or train, everyone seems to be yakking away on his or her cell phone. It's most annoying but sometimes if you focus in on a particular conversation, what you may hear will probably shock you. People complain bitterly about interference in their privacy, about government snooping, about constant surveillance of what they are doing, yet they seem to have no problem in chattering away rather loudly with others on cell phones--spilling out life stories and all sorts of useless information.
Shhhhh! Lower your voice. I'm really not interested in your story.

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