Identity Theft: General Tips

Protect your personal information. 

  • Keep important papers that have your personal information in a secure, and preferably locked, location.
  • Shred documents that contain your personal information before you put them in the trash.
  • Limit the personal information that you carry with you.
  • Do not carry your Social Security card with you — keep it at home in a safe place.
  • Make copies of everything that is in your wallet.  If your wallet is stolen or lost, you will know what is missing and it will be easier to cancel and replace items.

Monitor your credit cards and bank accounts. 

  • Check your accounts regularly for any charges you do not recognize. 
  • If you suspect fraudulent activity, contact the financial institution right away to report it and have replacement cards issued. 
  • If your statement does not arrive as usual, contact the financial institution to make sure that an identity thief has not changed the address on your account.

Monitor your credit report responsibly.

  • Regularly check your credit report at each of the 3 national credit reporting agencies for unfamiliar accounts and unusual charges.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 50% of identity theft victims discover the fraudulent activity by monitoring their own accounts.  By detecting the crime early, you improve your chances of recovering your good name, your credit standing and your money.
  • Promptly dispute unauthorized accounts or charges.
  • It is important to use fraud alerts and credit freezes to make it more difficult for a thief to open new credit with your information.  However, you should be aware that these measures will not prevent someone from selling your sensitive information or using it for tax fraud or in other ways.  
  • You may consider purchasing an identity protection service or product but be cautious of companies offering guarantees.  Third parties cannot always solve an identity theft issue.  Research any service or product before using it.

File your taxes early. 

  • Filing your taxes early, (as soon as you have all the information you need), is one of the best ways to protect yourself from tax identity theft.  Tax tax identity theft is when someone uses your Social Security number to file a tax return and steal your tax refund.
  • Most victims don’t find out about the fraud until they go to file their tax returns and are informed that someone has already filed a return using their Social Security number. 

Protect your credit and debit cards.

  • When you use your credit or debit card, be aware of people standing too close to you and cover your entry of your PIN.  A thief can also use a cell phone camera easily to get your information—then he or she wouldn’t even have to be facing you.  Skimming has also become a problem. This involves a device placed over the system so that your information is transmitted elsewhere.
  • It is best to use the same ATM machines every time so that you can tell if the machine looks or feels differently.
  • If your card is lost or stolen, promptly report it as missing with your bank or creditor so that the card can be cancelled and, if necessary, so that your account can be temporarily frozen.  Make sure to keep the telephone number to your bank or creditor handy.  If your card is missing you won’t be able to read the contact information found on the card but you’ll want to be able to report it as missing as quickly as possible.

Safeguard your information on your computer and online. 

  • Before you dispose of old computers, remove the hard drive and destroy it.  Erasing files does not actually get rid of them and you could accidentally pass along personal information.
  • When using the internet, do not check the “remember me” box.  Avoid automatic log-ins.
  • Make sure you have a secure connection before sharing any personal information on the internet.  A secure website has a lock icon in the address bar and a URL that begins with “https.”
  • Always be aware of what you are posting online.  Documents posted to the internet can connect to each other so that whatever information you put online can stay there forever.
  • Use your spam filter and beware of phishing emails that may either ask you for personal or account information.  They may also cause your computer to get a virus or malicious software.
  • Keep your online passwords long, and change your online passwords regularly.  If you write your passwords down, keep that information in a secure place.  Be aware that there are password encryption programs and other password management systems that may provide you with additional protections.