As we enter the new year, it's a great opportunity to gauge the healthiness of your financial credit and take precautions when it comes to preventing identify theft. Following these simple steps can help.

  1. Monitor your credit reports throughout the year. Sign up to obtain a free annual credit report at annualcreditreport.com from each service, including Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Stagger your requests so that you'll get your file from one of the credit bureaus every four months.
  2. You can shut out ID thieves before they cause damage by placing a security freeze on your credit reports at all three major credit bureaus: Equifax (http://www.equifax.com); Experian (http://www.experian.com); and TransUnion (http://www.transunion.com). It will prevent anyone from looking at your credit report except for the companies that already have a financial relationship with you, certain government agencies and other exempt entities. To sign up, go to each bureau's home page and look for the security-freeze link.
  3. Stealing preapproved credit offers from your mailbox to open an account is one way that a thief may obtain an account in your name. They can then watch your mailbox to steal the new card you didn't know was coming. Opt out of unsolicited credit card or insurance offers at http://www.transunion.com, or 888-5OPT-OUT.
  4. Don't wait for your monthly credit-card or checking account statements to look for suspicious activity. For added protection, sign up for online access to your accounts and check them regularly, even daily. Many credit card companies and banks also provide you with the option to sign up for alerts when a transaction is completed without the card being present, as well as notifying you of suspicious activity. Take advantage of these free services.
  5. If you suspect you've been a victim of identity theft, act quickly by contacting creditors and financial institutions to report unauthorized charges and close any compromised accounts. Place fraud alerts and security freezes, and get your credit reports from all three credit bureaus so you can review them for irregularities. File a report with your local police and the FTC, and step up your own account monitoring. The FTC has helpful resources to help you recover your identity on its website https://www.identitytheft.gov/.