Personal Finance & Money Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who want to be financially literate. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

You see ads all over the place for services that purport to protect you from identity theft, but my gut tells me that most of these are at best marginally effective and at worst outright scams.

Are any of these services worth the cost of subscribing to them? What is the best strategy for protecting myself from identity theft and similar malice?

share|improve this question
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Here are a handful of measures I take myself:

  • I check my credit reports once in a while and look for anything out of the ordinary.

  • If somebody calls me on the telephone claiming to be from my bank or credit card company, utility, etc. I ask for their number, check it, and call them back. I don't give personal information to people merely claiming to be from a place I do business with.

  • I never fill out ballots for free contests. Most of the time these are scams. When I get a call telling me "you won a free cruise" for a ballot I supposedly filled out at the mall, I say they're lying through their teeth. For excitement, I'll sometimes buy a lotto ticket instead.

  • I'm careful when I surf the web. I don't give my personal information to web sites I can't trust. If they look the least bit shady, I'm out. Also, I use different passwords at different web sites. I avoid using a password from a public terminal, but when I must, I change my password soon after.

  • I'm careful when I download software. I don't install anything I didn't get from a trusted source. I pay for software when necessary, so finding a trusted source is not hard. But, I've heard of people who – to save a buck – would download a pirated application from a shady warez site only to be "gifted" a trojan horse key logging or other spyware along with it.

  • When I no longer need a bill, receipt, statement, etc. or any document containing personal information, I shred it, and I use a shredder that does a micro-cut, not just a strip- or cross-cut. The micro-cut remains go in the green bin with wet and yucky organic waste.

  • When I no longer need a hard drive, I use a secure wiping tool like Darik's Boot & Nuke before reusing. If the drive isn't worth reusing, I'll wipe first then take apart with my Torx screwdriver. Once I have the drive platter, I scratch the heck out of it. Remains go to the community recycling depot.

That's all I can think of right now; I probably missed a few :-)

So, what do others do? I'm curious, too.

share|improve this answer
You seem to be paranoid enough that you could appreciate using a secure keyfob to access your bank. Something like this: – fennec Feb 25 '10 at 23:00
@Chris - Actually green bin is not secure since you actually give that out. :-) Better to use a worm composter - after it goes through them you take the bits and put it into your garden. – Zephyr Mar 3 '10 at 4:32
LOL. Trust me, the green bin is just fine. I had to clean it out last year, and there were lifeforms! :-) – Chris W. Rea Mar 3 '10 at 12:41
+1 for the shredder. Also remember to shred "junk mail" like Credit Card applications and Convenience Checks (anything that can be fished out of the trash and used against you). – msemack Dec 2 '10 at 15:58
No need to take apart hard drive. Put on eye protection, and then hit the hard drive a few times with a 5-10 lb sledgehammer. Very satisfying. – Paul Jun 18 '13 at 21:49 gives you free access to your 3 credit bureau records.

(Annual, not "free". The "free" guys will try to sell you something.)

share|improve this answer

Every 90 days add an Initial Fraud Alert to each of the 3 major credit bureaus.

share|improve this answer
+1 but fraud alerts are not as good as just freezing your credit. – MrChrister Dec 2 '10 at 3:53
@MrChrister can you elaborate on how to freeze your credit (report)? – antony.trupe Dec 9 '10 at 21:08

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.