Identity theft can destroy your credit rating and create horrible hassles that may take months, even years, to straighten out. While there's no foolproof way to avoid this, play it safe by following these precautions.
* Look for privacy statements on the Web sites and forms companies ask you to fill out and do business only with companies that have satisfactory privacy practices.
* Don't give out personal information to companies you don't know.
* Don't give retailers information on warranty forms or elsewhere that is not required. Merchants may require your Social Security number if you intend to pay by check but try to avoid revealing it. Some states ban or restrict retailers from requiring that information but sellers prefer the right to demand personal data.
* Never send your credit card number by email, which may not be secure.
* When buying over the Internet use a secure Website. Many Internet businesses voluntarily participate in privacy seal programs, which require participants to tell customers if and how their private data is used.
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