Identity theft is stealing someone’s personal information and using it to commit fraud or theft. Identity theft is a serious crime. Victims can have their identities stolen for months or years and not even know it.
How Identity Theft Can Happen
Identity thieves get personal information in many ways. They may:
- Practice “dumpster diving,” to get information from trash found at homes or workplaces.
- Steal wallets or purses for IDs, credit cards, and other information (or they can enter your home to steal personal data.)
- Steal mail, such as bank statements, bills, credit card offers and tax information.
- Pose as a rental agent or employer to get credit reports.
- Go online to steal information you may share on the internet.
- Pay an “inside” at a store or at work who has access to personal information.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
- Do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, passport or birth certificate except when absolutely necessary.
Install a locked mailbox at your residence or use a post office box to reduce the chance of mail theft.
- Pick up new checks at your bank.
- Do not leave paid bills in your mailbox for the postal carrier to pick up.
- Ask your financial institutions to add extra security protection to your account. Most will allow you to use an additional code when accessing your account.
- Protect your Social Security Number (SSN) at all costs. Do not let merchants write your SSN on your checks. Request merchants to use other forms of identification.
- Never allow credit card numbers to be written on your checks.
- Do not use your birth date or mother’s maiden name as PIN numbers or passwords.
- Remove your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. This will reduce the number of pre-approved credit offers you receive in the mail.
- Shred all paperwork with financial and personal information on it before throwing it in the garbage.
What To Do If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
- The Federal Trade Commission has set up an informative website to help victims of identity theft as a one-stop resource for identity theft victims. The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.