Tips to protect your identity

By Jennie Bragg, producer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Identity theft is the number one complaint by consumers to the Federal Trade Commission and has been for the past five years.

The average victim loses about $1,800 in goods and services and will spend around 30 hours and $370 to repair the damage done to their credit record.

Here's what you need to do to make sure you are not the next victim:

Invest in a shredder

Shred anything and everything that has your name and address on it.

ID theft often starts with stolen mail, lost or stolen wallets, or leaving your name and address on documents that you toss out at work.

Identity thieves love the recycling bin, and they aren't afraid to dumpster dive.

With that in mind, shred invoices, receipts, pre-approved credit card offers, credit card checks and the envelopes they came in.

Protect yourself online

Information that you store on your computer or in an online account can be a little bit trickier.

Be sure to encrypt any e-mails or files on your computer that may contain personal information, and always use a firewall and anti-spyware on a home computer.

It is also important to be wary of what you post on social networking sites.

"If we say that we're going on vacation and we'll be gone for a week, you might as well put a neon sign in front of your house saying come on in, take everything, help yourself to what's mine," says Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

"You have to be careful with your entire family. Educate them. Even the children may unwittingly put information online that compromises the entire family. And the crooks love this because it's perfectly legal for them to search social media websites and find information about you."

Check your credit report

Review your credit reports often for any suspicious activity.

Head to annualcreditreport.com to get a free credit report twice a year from each of the three reporting agencies.

"Be a savvy consumer and watch for identity theft," suggests Gail Cunningham. "Review your report, check for any new accounts that have been opened or certainly charges made to your existing account."

If suspicious charges have been made on one of your accounts, be sure to stay on top of the matter until it has been resolved.

If you are a victim

If you think you have been a victim of identity theft, call your creditors immediately and shut down the accounts in question.

"Consider putting a fraud or freeze alert on your account," suggests Cunningham. "Contact the credit bureaus and file a police report. You may need that police report to legitimatize the theft and get any information removed permanently from your credit report."

To file an identity theft complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, head to ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call the identity theft hotline at (877) 438-4338.

Talkback: What steps have you taken to protect your identity? To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.08%4.25%
15 yr fixed3.17%3.23%
5/1 ARM3.30%3.37%
30 yr refi4.06%4.19%
15 yr refi3.16%3.18%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,122.01 15.31 0.09%
Nasdaq 4,569.62 -1.02 -0.02%
S&P 500 2,000.12 0.10 0.00%
Treasuries 2.36 -0.03 -1.25%
Data as of 2:08am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.20 -0.13 -0.80%
Apple Inc 102.13 1.24 1.23%
Facebook Inc 74.63 -1.33 -1.75%
Yahoo! Inc 38.18 0.39 1.03%
Pfizer Inc 29.49 0.28 0.96%
Data as of Aug 27

Sections

Staggering interest from the Chinese in an immigration program has led the U.S. to run out of available visas for the first time ever. More

Former Fed chief Ben Bernanke believes the 2008 financial crisis was the worst in global history, topping even the Great Depression. More

Snapchat has gotten a $20 million funding round from Kleiner Perkins, valuing the company at $10 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. More

Utah State professor Michael Glauser cycled 4,000 miles this summer, visiting 100 entrepreneurs across the country. Here's a snapshot of how they grew their businesses. More

Five CNNMoney readers share stories about saving that you can learn from: What they would do differently if they had another chance. More

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.