Ten Tips From A Privacy Vigilante

"Jeff from Sacramento" advises people follow these tips to better protect themselves from file-sharing fraud.

1. Print out the tax document on paper and/or save a copy onto a CD or floppy disk, then delete it off your computer.

2. If you're going to leave the sharing program on your computer, be very sure of what it is sharing. Perhaps create a shared folder on your desktop and allow the sharing program only access to that. All downloaded files go into and out of that file only.

3. Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies such as Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Sign up for the fraud alert program. They will watch the Social Security numbers given to them for 90 days and alert the person if credit is applied for in the timeframe when a credit check is done.

4. Ask that a password be added to or in place of a Social Security number as an ID check when dealing with companies. Some companies will ask for the last four digits of a Social Security number as a form of ID checking to insure who they are talking to. Adding a password or using a password instead provides better security.

5. Watch the postal mail to make sure it isn't being stolen. People may try and steal mail for credit card offers and other information, especially now that they would have the name address and Social Security number from the tax form.

6. Watch what goes out in the trash - no names, addresses, phone numbers or other identifiable information. Anything with possible personal information on it needs to be shredded into tiny pieces.

7 People should get a regular credit report on themselves, just to make sure the information there is correct and to watch for signs of identity theft.

8. If you had your tax refund directly deposited to your checking or savings account, get that account changed as quickly as possible. Because it has the routing and account number on the tax form, money could be spent directly out of the account over the Internet 24 hours a day.

9. Go to Yahoo's or Google's Web sites and search for "identity theft." This will bring up sites that people can go to which will tell them more about identity theft, like what it is, how it occurs and more ways to protect their personal information. These sites will also offer information about where to go and how to report when something does happen.

10. If you keep the file-sharing program, use it to search for your tax file to see if anyone out there is sharing it after it is off your computer. In some cases, and with some sharing programs, it is possible to see who it is and to help law enforcement in tracking down the potential identity thief.