Consumer Reports, in its October 2003 cover story, offers consumers suggestions for what they can do to prevent identity theft, in addition to information on how thieves zap your ID and what businesses and government could do better to protect your financial information.

Identity theft, the fraudulent use of your name and identifying data by someone else to obtain credit, merchandise or services, claimed 7 million victims last year in the United States.

Consumers Union, the independent, nonprofit testing and information-gathering organization that publishes Consumer Reports, found that victims of identity theft typically lose $800 and spend two years clearing their name. The article says identity theft insurance is typically not worth paying for, and credit-monitoring services don’t prevent the crime. Finally, the group determined that government and businesses could be doing a lot more to protect your credit.

Identity theft is a crime of opportunity. Along with guarding your mail, checking your financial statement properly and ordering annual credit reports, Consumer Reports offers the following tips to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft:

  • Be stingy with information. Never disclose your Social Security number, birth date or mother’s maiden name unless you initiated the transaction.
  • Just say no. Opt-out of information-sharing options at your financial institutions. Call the credit reporting industry pre-screening opt-out number of pre-approved credit offers.
  • Shred and destroy. Before throwing out files containing Social Security numbers, account numbers and birth dates, shred them with a crosscut shredder.
  • Beware of strange ATMs. Avoid using private or strange-looking automated teller machines because they may be rigged to skim data off your card’s magnetic strip

Consumer Reports’ in-depth report on identity theft, including six tips on what to do if you become a victim and 11 steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming a victim, are available for free on its Web site at