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Can you keep a thief from heading to Mexico with your credit card number? You bet. Just take these precautions.

According to an annual study conducted by the Javelin Strategy and Research Center, almost 10 million people a year are victims of identity theft. One potential cause: more people are shopping online now. And, folks are distributing personal information through social media like Facebook and plugging it into digital devices they can easily lose.

Indeed, lost or stolen stuff is a gold mine for ID thieves. According to the Javelin study, 43 percent of all ID thefts involve information gathered from stolen wallets or physical documents—by far the most common technique. Online theft accounts for 11 percent of ID crime.

One Man’s Trash ...
ID thieves do steal wallets and purses, but they also wade through garbage at dump sites or before weekly trash pickups, looking for billing statements. So shred these documents before throwing them out.

When you’re sending mail, put it only in United States Postal Service blue mailboxes or take it to a postal facility to prevent thieves from snagging your outgoing bill payment stubs. Or worse, making a quick buck by taking the check payment you’re sending to your creditors, chemically stripping the ink and making it out to themselves.

Gone Phishin’
Online scam artists go fishing for money on the Internet ocean, sending official-looking e-mails that appear to be from a large banking institution. The message asks the recipient to log on to the bank site to re-enter personal data and verify accounts. But the link goes to a fake, yet realistic-looking, site that gathers personal information for the scammers.

Our advice: never respond to e-mails asking you to re-enter information. In fact, most large banking institutions plainly state on their websites that they never ask for information by e-mail. For that matter, thoroughly investigate any friends’ appeals for “emergency funds” through Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites. More often than not, those messages are the work of hackers. A woman in Missouri made the national news after wiring $4,000 to a person in England masquerading as a Facebook friend in need.

In recent years, CNET and other news organizations have even reported on thieves who’ve replaced the card reader at out-of-the-way ATMs with illicit card readers that store your information when you insert your ATM or credit card. The scammers then create new credit cards with your number on them. So check every ATM for nicks or scratches around the card reader before you withdraw cash.

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