Is your credit report, your privacy, your identity safe from criminals? Find out if it is-and what you can do to keep it safe-by reading "Identity Theft Alert" by Steve Weisman.

Your credit card was declined.

Such an annoyance. You paid your bill, the expiration date was right, your signature was on the back, and it should've worked.

Eventually it did, much to your relief, but that made you think. Is your credit report, your privacy, your identity safe from criminals? Find out if it is-and what you can do to keep it safe-by reading Identity Theft Alert by Steve Weisman.

Hacking and spamming and theft-oh my! Every time you hear another report of credit information breached (and the attendant hassle involved), it might seem like thieves are everywhere these days-and that suspicion might not be too wrong.

"Identity theft is one of the most pervasive and insidious crimes of today," Weisman says; in fact, more than 12 million people became victims last year.

So what can you do to avoid joining them? Weisman lists the ways.

Online, use strong passwords and encryption and beware of sites you visit. Never open a link in an email unless you're certain it's "legitimate," and have your antivirus program up-to-date at all times. By the way, Mac users shouldn't feel safe anymore; hackers are purposefully creating Mac viruses now.

Also, be cautious when clicking on links you see online. "Curiosity killed the cat," says Weisman. "Let the cat live."

When answering the phone, remember that your bank will not ask you for debit card or PIN numbers. Neither will the FBI or the IRS; the general rule of thumb is not to release any personal information unless you initiated the call. That's especially true if the person on the other end of the line seems to have half of your information. Chances are they're only waiting for you to get flustered and fill in the rest.

Monitor your credit rating and your monthly bills with eagle eyes. Keep those eyes on your credit card as much as possible when it's not in your possession. Know where the safest ATMs sit and why you should never use public copiers for important document duplication. And finally, remember that it's almost impossible to guarantee complete safety of your identity-even after you're dead.

Though it sometimes seems a little sensational, and though it leans toward repetitiveness, I found the information in Identity Theft Alert to be overwhelmingly good.

Part of the reason is that, while you've been warned at great length about identity safety, author Weisman offers tips I doubt the average person would generally consider. Weisman is, after all, an expert in this category-something you'll notice, once you get past the commonsensical and into the quieter threats that exist.

It's also helpful that Weisman doesn't assume anything about his readers; instead, his advice is methodical and simple to understand. The info is especially senior-friendly, although beware that the print-size isn't.

I think this is a book to read and refer to often. Buy Identity Theft Alert, highlight it, flag it, heed it, and you may avoid the worst this season. Why would you decline?