ID theft is the fastest-growing crime in the United States, according to authorities. About 10 million people a year find themselves in trouble involving their identity.

In many cases, thieves who take your personal data have a job where they have access to the information. Other sources include bribing someone who has the access, stealing the data from a computer or even a laptop, stealing mail, wallets or bank records, searching trash and one of the most recent trends: phishing.

One of the main tools of identity thieves is your Social Security number. That nine-digit code can give them access to tax records, allow them to open bank and credit card accounts, buy a car or even give your name in an arrest by authorities.

Here are a few tips on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.
* Don't carry your Social Security card. Leave it in a safe place.

* Order copies of your credit report. You are entitled to a free report every 12 months.

* Shred documents that have personal data, such as bank account statements and credit card applications.

* Place your outgoing mail in postal collection boxes instead of your home mailbox
.

Tips: What To Do When Your Identity Is Stolen
The Federal Trade Commission offers four tips on what to do if you believe your identity has been stolen.

1. Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report.

2. Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
3. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
4. File your complaint with the FTC.


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