In 2012, my credit cards were compromised three separate times. The crazy thing is, none of the three incidents had anything to do with my behavior, as far as I can tell. I believe the first one may have originated through a legitimate online purchase. The other two were a function of security holes in my bank’s system. Life inherently involves risk, and although we can’t control everything, it’s good to know there are some super easy steps you can take to help mitigate your risk of identity fraud.

  1. Shred, shred, shred. Identity crime isn’t just high-tech — these folks also kick it old-school by thieving out of trashcans. Protect your personal information the low-tech way with a cross-cut shredder. Destroy anything that contains full names, addresses, any type of account numbers and other personal or medical information you wouldn’t want made public.
  2. Sign up for a protection service, such as LifeLock, Identity Guard or Identity Force. All these services monitor for front-end, potentially fraudulent activity that precedes an actual security breach, rather than simply monitoring your credit report to alert you after the damage has already been done.
  3. Make a note in your calendar when you apply for a new credit card and a month before your old cards expire. This way, you’ll know to watch for a new card to arrive in the mail and if it doesn’t come when you expect it, tell the issuing bank it may have been stolen out of your mailbox.
  4. If you still pay bills the old fashioned way with checks and snail mail, don’t leave outgoing bills in your home mailbox where they’re vulnerable to drive-by theft. Mail bills only from a post office or other secure outgoing mailbox.
  5. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet and be sure your Social Security number doesn’t appear on your driver’s license. If it does, call your Department of Motor Vehicles to have it removed and your license reissued.

Don’t let fear stop you from living your life. Just be mindful of how you treat your personal information and you’ll automatically eliminate a lot of the risk.

Monica Ricci is the founder and president of Catalyst Organizing Solutions, an Atlanta-based organizing company that’s committed to helping individuals change their lives by changing their environments, beliefs, and behaviors, both at home and at work. Monica can be seen as a recurring expert organizer on the popular HGTV show, MISSION:Organization.