Imagine that you and your spouse have just found your dream home and having applied for a mortgage you are contacted by your banker to advise you that your loan is declined because of bad credit. You are predictably infuriated because your credit rating has always been perfect. As you investigate the situation you discover that someone has used your name and social security number to open several new credit cards, a car loan and a huge mortgage, all of which are in arrears and under investigation by lenders and legal authorities.

Of course you are an innocent victim but in most cases it will take many months if not years to reinstate your previously pristine credit rating. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that well over 500,000 individuals will fall victim to identity theft in each year and the problem is unfortunately on the rise. It is estimated that on average an identity theft victim will spend over 150 hours actively working to resolve issues related to the use of their personal data for fraudulent purposes.

An identity thief will be unable to initiate any crimes or reap any benefits unless he can first gain access to key pieces of your personal information. The reality is that this information may be unwittingly supplied by you in the course of your normal daily routines. Every day we are apt to purchase merchandise online, write checks at various retailers, talk freely on our mobile phones and apply for new credit cards or loans. Each time we expose our personal information we risk that data being hijacked by an identity thief.

Because it is such an onerous task to clear ones name after an identity theft occurance, it is imperative that we identify the common and avoidable methods that our personal information can be obtained by a criminal.

One of the easiest ways to guard your financial and personal information is to insure that no credit receipts, credit applications and even offers for credit often considered junk mail, are placed into your trash without first shredding using a cross cut shredding machine. These machines are affordable and readily available at any office supply or big box store.

Be vigilant when inputting your PIN number at an ATM machine or using a debit card, cover the screen with your free hand to deter any prying eyes. Even if you see no one in the vicinity, thieves have been known to monitor areas with tiny wireless cameras.

Use the services of the three major credit reporting agencies to obtain a copy of your personal credit report on a regular basis to insure that any improprieties are caught quickly and reported by you. In addition carefully scan your credit card and bank statements for any unusual transactions and inquire about them immediately.

It may surprise you to find out that over half of identy theft crimes are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. We unfortunately even have to exercise caution around our cirlcle of friends, aquaintances and co-workers.

Identity theft is a growing concern in our modern society but just by taking a few precautions as outlined we can stop the criminal activity before it has a chance to begin.

Author's Bio: 

Jim Hutton is CEO of JRH Consulting and researches and writes on identity theft issues that can be viewed at his website:

How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft