Ten steps to safeguard your identity

Identity thieves are on to you. Your identity can be stolen in ways you don't even realize until you get a credit card statement with purchases you didn't make, are denied for a major purchase or a collector calls for a payment.

Here are ten steps you can take to keep your identity secure provided by the New York State Higher Education Services Corp (HESC), the state's student financial aid agency that helps people pay for college:

3 Be careful about disclosing your personal information, such as your mother's maiden name, your Social Security number or other clues to your personal information, such as your pet's name.3 Secure your online and ATM passwords and PINs. Consider encrypted software that can secure all your passwords like Password Safe, RoboForm or similar programs. Avoid keeping bank PINs in your wallet or with your checkbook. If you must write your PINs and passwords, keep them in another location, away from your personal computer.

3 Take your credit card receipts from ATMs, stores, gas stations or restaurants and shred them when you get home. Thieves dumpster dive to get personal information.3 Thieves may spy for PIN numbers while you're using ATMs, so be aware of your surroundings and be wary of anyone who is too close to you when making ATM transactions.3 Be sure to finish your ATM transactions completely. Watch for the screen that signals your transaction is complete and remove your receipt. If you don't, the next customer may find an ATM slip hanging from the slot with the screen waiting for an additional response. How tempting!3 Trash can be treasure-purchase a good cross-cut shredder and use it. Shred everything that contains identifiable information on it including bank statements, bills, credit card slips, even the pre-approved credit card offers you may receive. You may be unwittingly throwing valuable information about yourself into the trash.3 Check your mailbox daily. Don't let mail accumulate in your box. Often, those pre-screened credit card offers may contain personal information or include special offer codes that can be used when calling a toll-free number by someone misrepresenting themselves as you. Shred these. You can stop getting these offers by contacting the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website: HYPERLINK "http://www.optoutprescreen.com" \\t "_blank" optoutprescreen.com.3 Beware of social engineering schemes such as pretexting or phishing. Sharp con artists may call you on the phone and misrepresent themselves as officials from a bank, credit card company, or retailer and ask you to "confirm" secure, personal information. Unless you initiated the call, do not give this information. Beware also of unsolicited emails that appear to be from a legitimate company asking for personal information for verification purposes. Pretexting by phone, phishing by email and other fraudulent methods of obtaining private information are illegal.3 When online shopping, be sure the website is secure. Look for the yellow closed lock or unbroken key before entering your billing information and credit card number.3 Schedule regular checkups. Just like health checkups, you should obtain an annual credit check for yourself. By federal law, all consumers are entitled to a free, yearly credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Review it carefully, watching for any incorrect addresses, credit accounts or other information and report errors or suspected fraud to each credit bureau immediately. The only authorized source for free annual credit reports is HYPERLINK "http://AnnualCreditReport.com" \\t "_blank" AnnualCreditReport.com. Other sources may offer a free report only after subscribing to their service. Learn more ways tech-savvy thieves steal identities by visiting the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft website.

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