THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

Think ID theft can't happen to you?

Not even the Fed chairman is immune. Ben Bernanke's wife was a target in an identity theft scheme that preyed on 500 people. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
 
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all CNNMoney.com RSS FEEDS (close)
By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

home_rich_cover.03.jpg
For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- We learned yesterday that the Fed Chief's wife Anna had her handbag stolen at a Starbucks in Washington, D.C. Her checkbook, driver's license, four credit cards and a small amount of cash were in her bag.

The thieves -- part of a ring that victimized hundreds of people -- wrote checks on the Bernanke account. As a result, the couple had to take steps against identity theft. And while the Bernanke experience was pretty old-school -- a real-world crime, identity theft also occurs in the virtual world. Consumers are best advised to protect themselves both online and in their day-to-day activities.

1. Protect yourself

First, there's very little that you can do really to completely eliminate the threat of identity theft. It's a multibillion dollar business after all. Last year about 9.9 million people were hit according to research by Javelin Strategy.

But you can help to reduce your chances of having your identity stolen. First, buy a shredder. Shred all your important papers and especially pre-approved credit applications received in your name and other financial information that provides access to your private information. I shred anything with my address on it, plus any credit card offers and any financial statements.

Next, reduce the amount of mail you get. Arrange to view your bills, your monthly bank statements, your credit card statements online. But be very leery of conducting your financial transactions using public access WiFi, its easier for scamsters to access your password.

And finally, protect your Social Security number. Don't even carry it on you. If a business requests your social security number, give them an alternate number, such as a driver's license number.

2. Report the crime

The first thing you should do is call one of the three major credit bureaus and file a fraud report. When you file with one of these bureaus, it will alert the other two companies. Then you can get one free copy of your credit report from each of the three companies.

Document everything says Adam Levin of Identity Theft 911. Check the reports carefully, and if you find any suspicious information or activity, immediately alert the credit bureau and the company that holds the suspicious account. Plus, make sure to file a police report. This will get it on record and possibly help in catching your thief.

Unfortunately, the simple fact is that identity theft can take months, if not years to fix, and it's an incredibly time-consuming process. But be wary of companies offering to help you fix your credit after identity theft.

Even if they're legitimate, it's best to handle this yourself. Finally, keep on top of your credit card and your banking account information online says Levin. It's a low cost way to keep on top of your accounts.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Got a financial dilemma? Go to CNNMoney.com/helpdesk to submit questions, read the Help Desk articles and check out new Help Desk videos. And tune in to CNN's Newsroom Tuesdays and Fridays, when Gerri Willis and other experts answer your questions.

Talkback: Have you even been a victim of ID theft? Tell us what you did about it and share your comments below. To top of page

Features
They're hiring!These Fortune 100 employers have at least 350 openings each. What are they looking for in a new hire? More
If the Fortune 500 were a country...It would be the world's second-biggest economy. See how big companies' sales stack up against GDP over the past decade. More
Sponsored By:
More Galleries
7 epic gadget flops From the Microsoft Zune to the BlackBerry PlayBook, the Fire Phone is following in some unfortunate footsteps. More
What I gave up to save $1 million They may have million dollar-plus nest eggs, but they had to make some big sacrifices along the way to get there. Here's what these four savers did without in order to save seven-figures retirement. More
World's Top Employers for New Grads For an exclusive CNNMoney list, research firm Universum Global surveyed college students around the world to see where they most want to work. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.