Identity Theft is the fastest-growing crime in America today. It occurs when someone illegally obtains your personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, or bank account number, and uses it to open new accounts or initiate transactions in your name.
A criminal could use your personal information to:
- Open new credit cards
- Open new bank accounts
- Make counterfeit checks
- Apply for loans
Because your personal information can be illegally used in multiple ways, identity theft can cause financial loss, damage your credit and result in a lengthy resolution process.
While identity theft is often characterized as a high-tech crime that affects only those who shop or do business online, the majority of identity theft occurs offline. Some of the common tactics used by thieves to obtain personal information are decidedly low-tech: stealing wallets and purses, intercepting mail, and rummaging through garbage.
12 Identity Theft Prevention Tips
- Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personal identifying information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information.
- Check your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year.
- Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Review your statements and close unused accounts. Be aware if bills don’t arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed your contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card or pin numbers in your purse or wallet because of what can happen if they fall into the wrong hands.
- Avoid giving any personal information over the phone, mail, or internet unless you know who you are dealing with. Give it to them in person instead.
- Criminals pretend they are collecting money for victims of natural disasters.
- Elderly people are frequently targeted in money scams. Keep a helpful eye for elderly family members and vulnerable neighbors.
- Make sure that you disconnect your laptop from broadband or shared connection when you are not using it.
Avoid offers and pop-ups that sound too good to be true. They want you to enter your information so they can access all of your personal information.
- Remove your name from mailing lists for pre-approved credit offers. Pre-approved credit card offers are target for identiy thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 888-5optout (888.567.8688).
- Only enter personal information on secure web pages that encrypt your data in transit.
- If you are going to use a mailbox, do so during or close to the posted pick-up hours. Better yet, drop your mail off at your local post office. Retrieve mail promptly and discontinue delivery while out of town.
Avoid Identity Theft
You can help protect yourself and your account information by following these simple steps:
- Delete suspicious emails from unknown sources without opening them.
- Never provide personal information over the phone or internet if you did not initiate the contact.
- Purchase a shredder and shred financial and personal documents you no longer need, such as credit card offers, pay stubs, and utility bills, before discarding them.
- Carry only necessary identification in your wallet or purse. For example, do not carry your Social Security Card.
- Do not print your Social Security number on your checks.
- When your Social Security number is requested, confirm that it is actually needed rather than some other identifier.
- Use online banking to pay your bills. The fewer personal documents sent through the mail, the less chance there is for identity theft.
- Closely monitor your bank account statements and credit card bills. Contact your financial institution immediately if there’s a discrepancy in your records or if you notice something suspicious, such as a missing payment or an unauthorized withdrawal.
- Avoid using public computers, such as those in libraries, hotels or internet cafes, to connect to online banking sites because of the risk of spyware residing on the public equipment.
- Reduce the number of credit offers you receive by contacting the National Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies at 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688). You can opt-out of receiving credit offers for five years or permanently.