Image: Personal Information, Social Security Number, and Security © Fuse, Fuse, Getty Images

As if we needed any more reminders to be careful about identity theft, some interesting stories in the media lately show that it doesn't always matter how diligent we are about protecting our identities. Another person or company can easily mess it up for us. So be careful out there, and don't make it any easier for them.

Who knew? Even banks make mistakes

(OK, maybe that isn't news . . . )

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that local resident Cindy Sullivan received a credit card from U.S. Bank. The problem? It was addressed to the person who used to live at her address -- eight years ago.

Sullivan could have had quite a party, buying whatever she wanted with her new Minnesota Twins Rewards MasterCard and ruining the former occupant's credit. Of course, she almost certainly would have been discovered and thrown in prison, so it's really best for everyone that she returned the credit card to U.S. Bank.

Inexplicably, though, U.S. Bank sent the credit card back to her. It was then that Sullivan got the newspaper involved, and the bank wound up with egg on its metaphorical face.

The lesson for all of us: Before you move, make absolutely sure to alert your credit card issuer of your new address. It could be easy to forget if, say, the card in question is one you rarely use. But you may not get lucky and have your replacement card, or a new card, sent to someone as ethical as Cindy Sullivan.

Universities aren't perfect either

It seems a boneheaded error was made by someone at the University System of Maryland. Maryland's General Assembly's Office of Legislative Audits found that UMC, a public corporation and charter school organization, comprising 12 Maryland universities and colleges, had been storing applicant information -- including the Social Security numbers and credit card numbers of about 8,000 prospective students -- on a server that anyone could access. As far as university officials know, the information wasn't compromised.

The Maryland Community News, which did a story on the security snafu, noted that colleges and universities typically store information on prospective students even if they don't go to the school. "The data may prove useful," wrote Andrew Ujifusa, "if, for example, a prospective student files a lawsuit against the school."

Making people's credit card information easily accessible to thieves is, indeed, a great way to invite lawsuits.

The lesson for all of us: Sometimes no matter what we do to protect ourselves, it won't matter. If it weren't for a human error, we'd act like the insurance company and would call this an act of God.

Kindle in the wrong hands

The Consumerist has an interesting story from a reader named Brandon who bought a Kindle electronic book reader from Amazon.com.

Brandon's Kindle, intended as a gift, was accidentally mailed to the wrong person. He was sent a replacement, but whoever had received the first one now had a Kindle that was preloaded with Brandon's email, mailing address and credit card information. This person eventually realized what a gold mine he or she had, and started buying things on it, including entire seasons of television shows.

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To Amazon's credit, the problem was fixed the problem pretty quickly once Brandon explained it, refunding the purchases and making it so the user of the first Kindle couldn't buy anything else.

The lesson for all of us: We live in a digital age. If you order an e-reader or anything digital that might have your credit card information on it, be aware of the potential for that information to fall into the wrong hands.

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