Tips on Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft
Identity theft is broadly categorized as the mis-use of one's personal information to commit some type of financial fraud such as:
- credit card fraud
- phone and/or utilities fraud
- bank fraud including mortgage and loan, ATM or debit
- medical identity theft; using one's identity to file false medical claims
- government documents fraud (getting a government issued ID in your name with their picture)
- other types of fraud include using your SSN to get job or giving your personal information when the perpetrator is arrested.
Theives often get your personal information from these more commonly used schemes:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Theft. Steal wallets and purses; steal mail, including bank and credit card statements; steal pre-approved credit offers and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
- Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
Top 10 things you can do to protect yourself:
- Shred all private records and financial documents.
- Secure your mail. Place your outgoing mail in a designated US Postal Service mailbox. Pick up your mail quickly from your home mailbox or get a P.O. Box.
- Protect your personal information. Do not give out your personal information (especially SSN or financial accounts) in response to *any* UNSOLICITED requests. Ask "why" they need your SSN. And if you are unsure, DO NOT give out your personal information. Call the company back using a phone number from a legitimate source.
- Monitor your credit card statement closely. Report any instance of unknown activities even if the transaction is only for $1.00. Thieves will often "test" the credit card number to see if it is still active.
- Monitor your credit reports. Your credit report can be obtained without any charges once a year from all three major credit reporting agencies. The website to request a copy of credit reports is: www.annualcreditreport.com or call (877) 322-8228.
- Know who you are dealing with. Ensure that the company or organization is legitimate BEFORE doing business with them.
- Protect your computer: update the operating system, install & maintain anti-virus and anti-spyware software, update all your software, and use a firewall.
- Do not post too much information online. Phishers are trolling social networking sites to learn more about a potential victim then will use that information to gain the trust of the victim.
- Use difficult to guess passwords for sensitive online accounts such as your banking account.
- Do not use easily available information such as "what's your mother's maiden name?" for password reset questions.
What to do if your identity has been stolen:
There are a number of federal organization and consumer protection agencies that offer sound information. Here are some links:
- Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/compromised.html
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm
- OnGuard Online: http://www.onguardonline.gov/topics/identity-theft.aspx