Nine Steps to Protect Against Identity Theft

1. Clean out your wallet: Never carry your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport with you in your wallet or purse. With this information, a thief could find out anything he or she could ever want to know about you. Protect these critical documents.

2. Pick up new checks at the bank: Even though you are not liable for their misuse, you can avoid potential headaches by making it harder for thieves to steal and cash your checks.

3. Avoid giving out personal info over the phone: Don’t divulge personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call. If someone calls you, or even if you call them using a number they provided, you can’t know whether the person you are talking to is not a thief.

4. Limit social media: Be careful what information you post online. Protect your personal blogs, resumes and everything that includes sensitive information such a birth dates, addresses, or other confidential numbers.

5. Shred all receipts and personal info: Dumpster diving is still one of the leading methods of identity theft.

6. Monitor who has your info: Be careful who has access to your numbers. Limit as much as possible, and make sure those who do know your information are willing and able to protect it. This includes your employer, landlord and family members.

7. Check your credit report: You are legally entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit rating agencies (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) per year. Watch for changes, and make sure that all accounts listed are accurate. Consider paying for a credit monitoring service, especially one that helps you clean up any mess if you become a victim.

8. Watch your credit cards for signs of trouble: Unaccounted-for purchases, bills for cards you don’t own, or bills that do not arrive as expected and card offers for your underage children are all signs your personal information has been compromised.

9. Be password savvy: Create passwords and personal identification numbers that are tougher to break. Use long passwords (25 characters or more) as opposed to short ones, particularly those with names, birthdates, or patterns like “qwerty1” or “1234.”

10. Do not respond to unsolicited e-mails: Also do not click on websites or download material from sites you do not trust. Keep your anti-virus and firewall information up to date.