Protecting Your Identity

Thieves are no longer only after your wallet, jewels, artwork or other precious belongings. Instead, they want you. With the proliferation of online transactions and the trend toward a cashless society, the number of identity thefts is on the rise. Being a victim can not only wreak havoc on your credit -- preventing the ability to buy a house or car -- it can take years to overcome.

Hackers are hijacking thousands of PCs to spy on users, shake down online businesses and steal identities. If you think your computer is safe, think again.

Tips for Shielding Yourself Online

CHECK YOUR CREDIT: Make sure there is no irregular activity. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, you may request a free credit report from each credit bureau, each year. To obtain these reports, go to, call 877-322-8228 or mail a request to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281 (request forms are available online).

Safeguards for D.C. Residents

paper shredder

SHRED: To dispose of bill statements or documents containing personal information, use a cross shredder, which cuts the paper in two directions, creating confetti, instead of long strips that are easily re-assembled. Just remember to be safe while shredding.

SAFEGUARD YOUR NUMBER: If a company asks for your social security number, ask them why they need it. Ensure that when obtaining a new driver's license the state motor vehicle department prints a unique license number.

MOTHER'S MAIDEN NAME: When a company asks for your mother's maiden name, what they really want is a unique password only known to you. Since your mother's maiden name can be easily discovered, consider something different.

AVOID THE BAIT: Many identity thieves send official-looking e-mail messages that appear to come from banks and other companies you've done business with. When in doubt, verify by phone or through the company's Web site that the e-mail is real.

>> More Phishing News

ID Theft Gets Personal

Personal finance reporter Nancy Trejos writes about her experience when her own finances became a mess after her debit card number was stolen.

Q&A Transcript: Adam Levin of Identity Theft 911 (Jan. 15, 2008)

Q&A Transcript: FTC's Joel Winston (Sept. 21, 2006)

What To Do If You're a Victim

After contacting your local police department, immediately alert the three major credit bureaus and place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit file. Also, request a free copy of your credit report.

Equifax: 800-525-6285; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion: 800-680-7289; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

If you discover fraudulent activity on any of your credit reports contact the fraud department of each company involved and keep a written record of all conversations, including the names of people you spoke with on the phone, dates and phone numbers.

Resources, forms, instructions and more information are available on the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Web site.

Security Freeze Laws

Credit freezes can be an effective, if blunt, tool to fight identity theft. A freeze directs the three major credit reporting bureaus to block access to a consumer's credit report and credit score.

What States Are Doing

TransUnion Offers Credit Freezes

Equifax Details Credit Freeze Plans

Experian to Offer Credit Freezes

More Advice

For online shoppers, security seals no garantee that Hackers aren't watching.

Five Tips

ID Theft Legislation

• Federal Trade Commission:

• Privacy Rights Clearinghouse:

• Privacy Rights Clearinghouse:

• Better Business Bureau:

Blog: Security Fix

Brian Krebs

Brian Krebs blogs about ways to keep your computer safe from phishing scams, viruses and hackers.

Where's Your Identity?

Document Security 101

How to Report Online Fraud

Column: Color of Money

Michelle Singletary

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary often writes about identity-theft issues and offers tips on managing your money and credit.

A Way to Freeze Out ID Thieves

Getting to Know Identity Thieves

The Littlest Victims of ID Theft

When ID Theft Starts at Home

Live Q&A Archive

Blog: The Checkout

Annys Shin

Consumer bloggers Annys Shin and Caroline Mayer wrote about bargains, scams, recalls, credit -- and how to protect your wallet.

Keeping ID Theft Victims in the Dark

Test Your ID Smarts

Surprising Findings

Do You Need ID Insurance?

Privacy Headlines

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Cyber-Security Headlines

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company