The crime of identity theft increases daily and therefore so do the chances that you will become a victim of it at some point if you do not take precautions to protect your personal information. Identity theft, as much as being a crime being committed regularly, is a royal pain in the backside to get straightened out, often taking as long as months and even years to get these bogus entries removed from your credit reports.
Identity theft is by no means limited to online transactions. Reports and studies indicate that it is just as rampant for offline activities. How about those offers for pre-approved credit cards or reduced rate mortgages that you get much more often than necessary delivered via US mail? What do you do with them? Of course, you have purchased an inexpensive paper shredder from your local office supply store like Best Buy of Office Depot and shred them, right? Please don't tell me that you just throw them in the trash, because that is a prime place for identity theft robbers to get the information that they need to make YOU a victim of their antics.
From an offline perspective, you are encouraged to look over your credit card bills when they arrive in the mail. This includes bank statements and your mortgage statements every month. If someone were to steal the mail out of your mailbox while you were at work, is there enough information on any of those statements to enable an identity thief to open new accounts using your identity? If so, you may wish to have your statements sent to a PO box that is much more secure than your mailbox standing out by the road all day long where someone could steal your mail, or even check with your lender to see if they could send statements electronically via a secure connection to your secure emailbox.
You should place a fraud alert on your credit report, even if you are not a victim of identity theft. There are different names for this service, but it will require you to be contacted if anyone (including yourself) applies for credit using your name. This needs to be done with each of the three major national credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If they give you any trouble with this, you are encouraged to report them to your state's division of financial regulation. You are trying to protect yourself, they are providing a service, and if they are uncooperative, you do not need to put up with it.
One point to be taken very seriously is that if you have become a victim of identity theft, do NOT make any payments on any of the bills opened by the thief. If you do, this action could be used by the creditor to claim that it really is your account since you made at least one payment on it. As ludicrous as that sounds, you need to understand that the creditor realizes that if identity theft can be proven, they will most likely not even be able to collect as much as a penny on the dollar for the balance owed. So the creditor will make every attempt possible to claim that the fraudulent account really is yours, and if you make any payments on it, that will only service to substantiate their claims.
Be vigilant! You have rights and you need to be aware of what they are. You should also be aware that identity theft protection is available if you wish to utilize that route to protect yourself against identity theft.