We’ve all read the stories of people who’ve lost money, had prescriptions filled under their names, and even been mistakenly arrested as a result of identity theft. Between 2008 and 2009, approximately 11 million Americans have been victims to this seemingly new phenomenon.

ID Theft

But identity theft has been around since the first time a person attempted to pretend to be someone else for dishonest reasons. Now, though, identity theft is defined as what happens when any party secures goods, services, or financial benefits using someone else’s confidential information–without that person’s permission.

The most common way confidential details are accessed is via your social security number. It’s the most common gateway to accessing your bank account details, mortgage information, investments, loans, credit history, driver’s records, military records, and more. Since most businesses have very few safeguards in place to prevent fraudulent transactions–and may leave them out because of the fear of being seen as discriminatory or too difficult to deal with–this means protecting your identity is up to you.

Recommended ways to keep your confidential information safe:

  • Keep home records in a locked file.
  • Keep account numbers in a safe place.
  • Ensure the security of any online transaction. Look for badges like the VeriSign Trust Seal, which indicate the security of ecommerce provided by that company.
  • If you’re interested in buying from a relatively unknown company you’ve never dealt with before, check carefully for reviews or scams associated with the business before buying.
  • When asked for your social security number, don’t hesitate to ask why it’s needed.
  • Use a paper shredder to dispose of records like old bank and investment statements, social security, and more. Most of these hard copies carry details used to access your account.
  • If a carbon set is used to make copies of your transaction, keep the carbon or make sure it’s destroyed before you leave.
  • Have yourself removed from the mail list of companies that send unsolicited charge cards.
  • Check for any unusual bank or business transactions, and if you find any, be sure to track down the reason for the irregularity immediately.
  • Ask whether a store uses a wireless network to transmit transaction details, and what safeguards are in place.
  • Don’t leave mail in your mailbox, and don’t leave outgoing mail in your mailbox.