Javelin Strategy & Research, a San Francisco-based firm that specializes in research about financial services, gives these suggestions on ways consumers can protect themselves from identity theft:

• Monitor your accounts regularly.

• Review credit reports at least once a year.

• Never provide sensitive financial information, such as a Social Security number, over the phone unless you placed the call directly to a verified, trusted location.

• Install and regularly update computer security systems, such as firewalls and anti-spyware.

• Rely less on paper by using direct deposit of checks, online bill paying.

• Don't carry your Social Security card around, and also strip unneeded credit cards and other documents from your wallet.