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Beat the E-Thieves

Hear that? Another digital door has been broken down, which means the e-thieves are once again on the loose. This time, the New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicles was the victim.

According to industry trade magazine Computerworld, last week a worm was found on one of the servers that the agency uses to store credit card numbers. The FBI is investigating the breach, but so far there have been no reports of identity theft.

The incident brings into sharp relief the flaws with many things digital, and it means that you, dear Fool, will have to watch your own financial backside. Fortunately, doing so shouldn't take much work. Here are the three top tips for preventing identity theft from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling:

Never give out personal or account information in response to a phone call or e-mail. E-thieves love it when you give them the keys to your accounts. That's why, the NFCC says, they often call or write, posing as legitimate financial institutions, to claim there's a problem with your account. Typically, this is called "phishing." It'll cost you if you get hooked. Fortunately, good institutions such as eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) are helping consumers fight the good fight. You can, too. Just press "delete."

Open credit card and other bills promptly and reconcile receipts and accounts. You'll never be able to protect all of your information all of the time. So how do you beat the e-thieves? Know more about your finances than they do, says the NFCC. First, keep close tabs on your credit report, which you may be able to get for free. Then, track what you spend and save through personal finance programs such as Intuit's (Nasdaq: INTU  ) Quicken and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Money. Doing both will allow you to spot, and stop, identity thieves before they irreparably harm your credit.

Treat paper and electronic mail carefully. There are many types of identity theft. And while the digital variety gets most of our attention -- hello, Paris Hilton! -- the NFCC says that it's often the old-school dumpster diver who learns the most about you, and goes on to do the most damage. So shred the old bills, keep your wallet close, and put important documents under lock and key.

There's more you can do, of course. But following just these three steps will keep most people safe. So stay vigilant, New Hampshire. The e-thieves may be upon you now, but they'll be gone before you know it. It's the rest of us that I'm worried about.

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Fool contributorTim Beyerskeeps his digital doors locked. You're not welcome here, e-thieves. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.

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