You can help protect yourself by taking these low-tech, common-sense precautions:

  • Never give your Social Security number or other information to strangers who call, text, or send e-mail messages to you, even if they seem legitimate, as with phony “phishing” e-mail that looks like it comes from your bank. And don’t write your Social Security number on checks (except those you send to the IRS), noncredit applications, or other forms.
  • Never leave your wallet or purse unattended. Don’t carry your Social Security card, rarely used credit cards, or written PINs or passwords.
  • Store financial account statements, medical records, and tax filings in a secure place at home, especially if you let workers or others inside, and shred those documents when you no longer need them
  • Don’t post your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, first pet’s name, or other personal information on websites like Facebook, Flickr, Friendster, LinkedIn, MySpace, or Twitter. They’re often used to verify your identity and could allow an imposter electronic access to your accounts.
  • A lot of credit/debit-card issuer offers free online or mobile alerts that will warn you of suspicious account activity as soon as it’s detected, sign up for them. The alerts are different from the expensive credit-monitoring services that banks also sell. (You don’t need those.)