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DEAR ABBY: Every time I walk into a bank to use the ATM, I notice the trash cans are full of paycheck stubs. Don't these customers realize that in most cases their Social Security numbers are printed on those stubs along with their full names and addresses?

Please get the word out: BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION! Also, is there any reason why our full Social Security number has to be printed on our paycheck stubs? In this age of electronic transfer and identity theft, it seems another ID code could be implemented. Thank you for letting me spout off. -- REGINA IN N.Y.

DEAR REGINA: Your letter is a timely one because October has been designated "Security Month." (How sad that we need to have one.) You're absolutely right that people should be ultra-careful about paycheck stubs. They should be equally careful about canceled checks, receipts, and any other item that could be stolen and used to aid in identity theft. Many people save their paycheck stubs to give to their accountant at the end of the year or to keep track of accumulated vacation time -- so they shouldn't be discarded in haste anyway.

According to Mariana Gitomer of the Social Security office in Los Angeles, the Social Security Administration does not require Social Security numbers on paychecks. Some employers use only a portion of the numbers rather than the complete ID. Since the practice is discretionary, concerned employees should discuss with their employers whether it should be continued. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: As president and founder of the world's largest document destruction and recycling company, I know firsthand how important it is to be vigilant when it comes to the dangers of identity theft. Studies show that this crime affects more than a million victims each year -- making it one of the fastest-growing crimes in North America.

Identity theft occurs when criminals steal your personal information and use it for fraudulent purposes, frequently costing victims thousands of dollars. Most often this happens when people throw away their personal papers such as bills, credit card statements and preapproved credit card offers.

Some steps you can take to protect your confidential information:

(1) Check your credit reports once a year to make sure there are no discrepancies.

(2) Guard your Social Security number and don't carry your Social Security card with you unless absolutely necessary.

(3) Always destroy papers containing personal information prior to throwing them out (a cross-cut shredder is best).

(4) Never give your information to telephone solicitors, unless you have called them yourself.

(5) Consider using a locked mailbox to receive all mail.

(6) If you have Internet access on your computer, always install a firewall.

(7) Businesses should talk to their employees about the importance of confidentiality and establish clear guidelines on workplace security. -- GREG BROPHY, PRESIDENT, SHRED-IT INTERNATIONAL INC.

DEAR GREG: Thank you for pointing out that preventing identity theft is simply a matter of being cautious, proactive and always vigilant with one's private information. Readers, heed his warning NOW. Remember: Better safe than sorry!

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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