10 Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft

Your trash can be a treasure trove of information to identity thieves. ┬ęThinkstock

If you think identity theft won't affect you, you may be a super optimist. Not to be Chicken Little, but in 2012 as many as 12.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft, which breaks down to a crime every three seconds, and those victims were defrauded as much as $21 billion [source: Javelin Strategy & Research]. So maybe being a little bit of an alarmist isn't so bad. Identity theft is a crime that involves another person stealing and using your personal information, such as your name, social security number, birth certificate and financial account numbers for their own personal gain, whether they go on a spending spree or seek medical treatment while posing as you. Thieves get your information sometimes in the easiest of ways, such as simply looking through your trash.

It's not hopeless. In fact, nearly half of those 12.6 million victims discovered identity theft because they themselves were staying on top of their accounts and credit reports; they weren't notified by the fraud department at their bank [source: Javelin Strategy & Research]. By practicing a few good habits, you can protect your information and minimize risk.