Most people are aware of the crime that has become known as identity theft. Whether you’ve read about it, heard stories about it on the news, or you’ve been a victim of it yourself, it’s an increasingly prevalent crime that can cause major disruptions in people’s lives.
With identity theft, someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. There are countless ways this data can be used, but some examples include:
- Opening a bank account in your name and writing bad checks on the account.
- Establishing telephone or wireless phone service in your name.
- Buying cars and taking out auto loans in your name.
- Opening new credit card accounts, using your name, date of birth and Social Security number.
- Filing for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred.
While there is, unfortunately, no foolproof way to guard yourself against identity theft, there are common sense steps you can take to minimize your risk (this list is a compilation of suggestions from the Better Business Bureau, US Dept of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission):
- Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry the number in your wallet, and only give it out when absolutely necessary. If the number is used on your health insurance card, request that another number be used to identify you.
- Be mindful of what’s in your wallet or purse. Consider what information a potential thief could obtain based on what’s in your wallet or purse, and pull out items that might compromise you. Keep a listing of all credit card information, including contact numbers, in a secure place in case you lose your wallet or purse.
- Treat your mail and trash carefully. If your mailbox isn’t lockable, try to retrieve it relatively quickly after delivery, and don’t put outgoing mail in the mailbox. Shred all sensitive financial information prior to disposing of. Pre-approved credit offers received in the mail are a relatively simple way for an identity thief to compromise you. Make sure all offers are shredded, and consider adding yourself to a pre-approved credit offer opt-out list by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).
- Be on guard when using the Internet. Using the Internet can sometimes leave you vulnerable to online scammers, identity thieves and more. For tips on how to protect your personal information, visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov.
- Check your credit report periodically for errors or suspicious looking accounts. The three credit reporting agencies are required to offer one free report every 12 months. These reports can be accessed at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Look for signs of suspicious activity or new accounts and charges that you didn’t authorize.
For additional tips on how to prevent identity theft, we encourage you to visit the following sites (type ‘identity theft’ into their search boxes):