What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses another person's personal information such as name, Social Security number, driver's license number, credit card number, or other identifying information to take on that person's identity in order to commit fraud or other crimes.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
The following tips can help lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card or other cards that show your SSN.
- Use caution when giving out your personal information. Scam artists "phish" for victims by pretending to be banks, stores or government agencies. They do this over the phone, in e-mails, and in postal mail. Most institutions wouldn't ask for your SSN or other personal information over the phone, and many emphasize that they do not ask for this information. Do not send your SSN or credit card information via email. If you wouldn't feel comfortable putting this information on a postcard, you probably wouldn't want to send it by email either.
- Treat your trash carefully. Shred or destroy papers containing your personal information including credit card offers and "convenience checks" that you don't use.
- Protect your postal mail. Retrieve mail promptly. Discontinue delivery while out of town.
- Check your bills and bank statements. Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don't arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
- Check your credit reports. Review your credit report at least once a year. Check for changed addresses and fraudulent charges.
- Freeze your credit. If you do not plan on conducting any activities that require third parties to run a credit report of you, you can freeze your credit reports. This will prevent attackers from obtaining credit histories and opening new lines of credit. Credit freezes can be lifted temporarily to allow legitimate, authorized activity. Freeze your credit for free here:
- Stop pre-approved credit offers. Pre-approved credit card offers are a target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).
- Ask questions. Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. If you're not satisfied with the answers, don't give your personal information.
- Protect your computer. Protect personal information on your computer by following good security practices.
- Use strong, non-easily guessed passwords.
- Use firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software that you update regularly.
- Download software only from sites you know and trust and only after reading all the terms and conditions.
- Don't click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.