Are you at risk for identity theft?

Would you leave your house unlocked when you go out of town or leave a valuable item on the seat of your car in plain sight? Probably not … because doing that would put you at risk for theft. However, what you may not realize is that you may be leaving your most valuable item exposed: your credit identity.

What is a ‘credit identity’?

Your credit identity is your personal information that allows you to obtain credit. It’s your Social Security number, your date of birth, your credit card numbers, or your bank account information. If this valuable information lands in the wrong hands, you may become a victim of identity theft. But you wouldn’t be alone. More than 10 million people fall victim to identity theft each year, with criminals stealing nearly $50 billion. Victims sometimes don’t discover that their names have been used until months later when they find themselves with a credit report mess that is both costly and time-consuming to clear up.

How can you protect yourself from identity theft?

The Wisconsin BBB offers the following advice for protecting yourself:

Pay attention. Make sure you know when and how your personal information is used. Be aware of who might have easy access to your information in your mailbox, computer, or household files.

Be discreet. Don’t give out your information via the phone or Internet unless you are absolutely positive you know the person or organization is reputable.

Shred. Destroy anything that has your information. This includes bank and other financial statements, credit card offers, old pay stubs, or tax records.

Travel light. Don’t carry your Social Security card, extra credit cards, birth certificate, or passport unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Be proactive. Get a copy of your credit report each year at and check it for any suspicious activity.

Lock it up. Guard your personal information by keeping it in a safe place such as a locked filing cabinet or desk drawer.

Be suspicious. If you feel you might be a victim of identity theft, contact the Wisconsin BBB at or 608-268-BBB1, or call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT.

Kimberly Hazen is regional director of the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin.

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click hereIf you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.