Marino on Money: October 21

As we move toward the holiday season, I'm sure you're starting to plan that yearly pilgrimage to the stores to buy gifts. Sadly, someone else is headed to the store also: thieves. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Before you start shopping, let's review a few good ideas to keep your identity safe and your funds in your bank account.

Stop Identity Theft

- Buy a shredder
- Request a free credit report
- Keep your Social Security number safe
- Look for identity theft warning signs

1) Want to buy a great gift for yourself? Invest in a shredder. One of the easiest ways for identity thieves to steal important information is through something called "dumpster diving." Thieves find old bills with your account numbers and personal information in the trash and create an identity to match yours.
2) Check your credit regularly. By monitoring your credit report, you might see someone using your credit and can stop it quickly. You can request a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.
3) Don't carry your Social Security number or write it on checks. Nearly every institution uses this number for someone to apply for credit. By protecting your Social Security number, it'll be much more difficult for thieves to open a credit card in your name.
4) Finally, watch for warning signs. Are bills not showing up when expected? Are you receiving unsolicited credit cards or statements? Is your credit being denied for no apparent reason? These could be signs someone has stolen-and is using-your identity.

Protecting yourself from identity theft is becoming a full time job. By setting up a few easy systems like shredding, credit report monitoring, and protecting important personal information, you're much more likely to spend the holiday season shopping instead of wondering what went wrong.

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Contact the three credit agencies and have your credit frozen.

If they can't use it, they dump it and forget it, very fast.