Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, like your name, Social Security Number (SSN) or credit card number, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
Don’t want to be a victim? You can take special precautions to make sure your personal information doesn’t fall into the hands of would-be thieves.
- Don’t be too social. Beware what you post on social networking sites like Google+, Facebook and Twitter. Listing your birth date, mother’s maiden name, pet’s name or even your school mascot could give thieves the information they need to steal your identity.
- Guard your information. Don’t give out your personal information via email or on the Internet unless you initiate the inquiry. Your bank or credit card company will never ask you to verify your account information by email.
- Be password savvy. Create hard to break passwords for your email account(s), bank account and school information. Never use your birth date, name or phone number as a password. Choose a password with a mix of characters and numbers that would be hard to guess. Test the strength of your passwords by using a password checker.
- Check your credit report. One of the quickest and easiest ways to guard yourself against identity theft is to routinely check your credit report. Identity thieves often target young adults who have relatively little credit history and are less likely to check their credit report. Don’t be a victim! Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free report from each of the three major consumer reporting agencies.
- Keep personal documents safe. If you live in a community setting, like a dorm, or fraternity or sorority house, store personal papers, such as your birth certificate, Social Security card, transcripts and financial aid forms, in a fire-proof lock box. These are relatively inexpensive to purchase and available from a variety of stores.
- Shred unnecessary documents. Invest in a cross-cut shredder and destroy all unnecessary documents that contain personal information, such as your user IDs and passwords, account numbers, birth date or SSN. This could include old bank statements, unused deposit slips, ATM receipts, pay stubs, credit card offers and many other items. Don’t just throw them away!
- Protect your SSN. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet, and don’t have your SSN printed on your checks.
- Put a stop to junk mail. Opt out of receiving pre-approved credit offers by calling 888.567.8688 or visiting OptOutPrescreen.com, a service run by the consumer reporting agencies. You will be asked to provide your SSN when you call.
- Get online. Switch to online bill payment methods to eliminate your paper trail. In addition, 24-hour account access will allow you to more closely monitor your account activity and respond faster to fraudulent charges.
Already a Victim?
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you’ll need to act fast. Follow these four steps to limit the amount of damage done to your good name.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and check your report. Fraud alerts prevent a thief from opening more accounts in your name.
- Close the accounts that have been tampered with or opened without your knowledge.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
- File a report with the police.
For detailed information about each step, visit FTC.gov.