Save yourself a lot of grief if you follow this advice

Here's some great advice, and it's free of charge. Not only will taking this advice not cost you a thing; it might just save you a lot of money and headaches.

Read this and make a copy for your files in case you need to refer to it someday.

• Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, write in "photo ID required."

• When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, never put the complete account number on the "For" or "Memo" line. Instead, just put the last four digits. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through the check processing channels won't have access to it.

• Put your work phone number on your checks instead of your home phone number. And if you have a P.O. Box ,use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a P.O. Box, use your work address.

• Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks. You can add it if it is necessary, but if you have it printed, anyone can get it.

* Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. Also photocopy your passport.

• We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately if they're ever stolen. But the key is having the toll-free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know who to call and with the accurate information. Keep this information where you can find it.

• File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards or other important documents or information were stolen. This proves to credit providers that you were diligent, the first step toward an investigation, if there ever is one.

• Most importantly, if your credit cards are stolen, call all three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name. Also call the Social Security fraud line number.

There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves' purchases.

Here are the numbers you will need to contact if your wallet, etc., has been stolen: Equifax, (800)525-6285; Experian (formerly TRW), (888) 397-3742; Trans Union, (800) 6807289; and Social Security Administration fraud line, (800) 269-0271.