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Identity Theft Prevention: Mr. Modem's Top Ten Tips

Each year, millions of people become victims of identity theft—a crime that involves acquiring someone’s personal identification information in order to impersonate them for financial gain. Information such as name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, birth certificate, or mother’s maiden name enables the identity thief to commit numerous forms of fraud. Identify-theft crimes include taking over a victim’s financial accounts, opening new bank accounts, purchasing automobiles, applying and securing loans, credit cards and social security benefits, renting apartments, and establishing services with utility and telephone companies.

To reduce the likelihood of becoming an identity theft victim, follow Mr. Modem’s Top Ten Best Computer Tips for identity theft prevention, including off-line, real life tips:

1. Remove snail mail from your mailbox as soon after delivery as possible and do not leave outgoing mail in unsecured mail receptacles. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office.

2. Sign new credit cards as soon as you receive them. Save credit card receipts and match them (reconcile) against your monthly statement.

3. Do not provide your Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name or credit card number by telephone, unless you initiate the call to your financial institution or other reputable entity.

4. Be guarded, surly, cynical, and leery (which happens to be the name of my attorney’s firm) when it comes to providing information online. One of the best computer tips is if a Web site requires you to provide personal information in order to register, unless it's your personal financial institution's Web site, don't provide the information. Your personal information is rarely anybody's business. Guard it jealously.

5. Cover the keypad when entering a PIN or long-distance access code at an ATM machine or pay phone. This will prevent "shoulder surfers" from copying your number. Don't carry PIN numbers in your wallet.

6. Never leave receipts at bank ATM machines, bank counters, trash receptacles or gasoline pumps. Keep track of all your paperwork. When you no longer need it, shred it.

7. Shred pre-approved credit applications, credit card receipts, bills, and other financial information before discarding them in the trash. Call Opt-Out at 1-888-567-8688 to reduce the number of unwanted credit card offers you receive in the mail.

8. Order your personal credit report each year to check for fraudulent activity or other discrepancies. One of the best computer tips around is to visit, a site sponsored by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to check your credit card activity online, or for a free credit report, visit You can also subscribe to a low-cost monitoring service to protect against fraud throughout the year.

9. When paying bills by mail, don't write your account number on the outside of an envelope. Even if there’s a place for your account number on a bill-paying envelope, leave it blank or enter the last four digits only. Online banking with any major financial institution is generally considered to be very safe.

10. Report any lost or stolen credit cards to the issuing authority immediately. To report a stolen or misused Social Security number, call 1-800-269-0271 or visit the Social Security Administration's Web site at

In addition to the best computer tips mentioned above, additional resources include:

Federal Identity Theft Resources

Identity Theft Prevention

Identity Theft Resources Identity Theft Resources

Nationally syndicated columnist and author Mr. Modem shares his expertise and provides the best computer tips and more each week with subscribers worldwide in “Mr. Modem’s Weekly Newsletter.” For additional information or to subscribe, visit

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