can I prevent identity theft from happening to me?
As with any crime, you can't guarantee that you will never be
a victim, but you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal
information widely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue,
you can help guard against identity theft.
give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or
over the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or are sure
you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as
representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs) and
even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother's
maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information.
Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are
dealing with a legitimate organization. You can check the organization's
Web site as many companies post scam alerts when their name is
used improperly, or you can call customer service using the number
listed on your account statement or in the telephone book.
Don't carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.
Secure personal information in your home, especially
if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service
work done in your home.
Guard your mail and trash from theft
Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes
or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox.
Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to
be away from home and can't pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal
Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal
Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you
can pick it up or are home to receive it.
To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or
recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred
your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance
forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired
charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get
in the mail. If you do not use the pre-screened credit card offers
you receive in the mail, you can opt out by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT
(1-888-567- 8688). Please note that you will be asked for your
Social Security number in order for the credit bureaus to identify
your file so that they can remove you from their lists and you
still may receive some credit offers because some companies use
different lists from the credit bureaus’ lists. For more
information, see How can I prevent companies from using my personal
information for marketing?
Carry only the identification information and
the number of credit and debit cards that you'll actually need.
Place passwords on your credit card, bank and
phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like
your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits
of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still
have a line on their applications for your mother's maiden name.
Use a password instead.
Ask about information security procedures in your workplace
or at businesses, doctor's offices or other institutions that
collect personally identifying information from you. Find out
who has access to your personal information and verify that it
is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those
records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with
anyone else. If so, ask if you can keep your information confidential.
Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary.
Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. If your state
uses your SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute
another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses
your SSN as your account number.
Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow
up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing
bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account
and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
Be wary of promotional scams. Identity thieves
may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.
Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work as
well as any copies you may keep of administrative forms that contain
your sensitive personal information.
Cancel all unused credit accounts.
When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, rather
than having them sent to your home mailbox.
What should I do if someone has stolen or scammed my personal
information or identification documents?
If your information
or identification documents were stolen or scammed, you have an
opportunity to prevent the misuse of that information if you can
take action quickly.
account information such as credit card or bank account information:
Close those accounts immediately. When you open new ones, place
passwords on these accounts. Avoid using your mother’s maiden
name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your
phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
For SSNs: Call the toll-free fraud number of
any one of the three major credit bureaus and place a fraud alert
on your credit reports. This can help prevent an identity thief
from opening new credit accounts in your name. See What are fraud
alerts and victim statements?
To replace an SSN card: Call the Social Security
Administration at 1-800-772-1213 to get a replacement.
For driver's license or other identification documents:
Contact the issuing agency. Follow their procedures to
place fraud flags and to get replacements.
Once you have taken these precautions, there really isn't anything
more you need to do except to check for the signs that your information
is being misused. See How can I tell if I'm a victim of identity
theft? and Are there any other steps I can take to make sure I'm
not an identity theft victim? You don't have to file an identity
theft report with the police or with the FTC until you find out
if your information is actually being misused. If another crime
was committed, such as theft of your purse or wallet or your house
or car was broken into, report that crime to the police.
have a computer and use the Internet. What should I be concerned
If you're storing personal information such as SSNs, financial
records, tax returns, birth dates, or bank account numbers in
your computer, the following tips can help you keep your computer
and your personal information safe from intruders:
your virus protection software regularly, or when a new virus
alert is announced. Computer viruses can have a variety of damaging
effects, including introducing program code that causes your
computer to send out files or other stored information. Be on
the alert for security repairs and patches that you can download
from your operating system's Web site.
- Do not
download files sent to you by strangers or click on hyperlinks
from people you don't know. Opening a file could expose your
system to a computer virus or a program that could hijack your
- Use a
firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed Internet
connection like cable, DSL or T-1, which leaves your computer
connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. The firewall program
will allow you to stop uninvited guests from accessing your
computer. Without it, hackers can take over your computer and
access your personal information stored on it or use it to commit
- Use a
secure browser - software that encrypts or scrambles information
you send over the Internet - to guard the security of your online
transactions. Be sure your browser has the most up-to-date encryption
capabilities by using the latest version available from the
manufacturer. When submitting information, look for the "lock"
icon on the browser's status bar to be sure your information
is secure during transmission.
- Try not
to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely
necessary. If you do, use a strong password - a combination
of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. Don't
use an automatic log-in feature which saves your user name and
password so you don't have to enter them each time you log-in
or enter a site. And always log off when you're finished. That
way, if your laptop gets stolen, it's harder for the thief to
access your personal information.
you dispose of a computer, delete personal information. Deleting
files using the keyboard or mouse commands may not be enough
because the files may stay on the computer's hard drive, where
they may be easily retrieved. Use a "wipe" utility
program to overwrite the entire hard drive. It makes the files
unrecoverable. For more information, see Clearing Information
From Your Computer's Hard Drive (www.hq.nasa.gov/office/oig/hq/harddrive.pdf)
from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
- Look for
Web site privacy policies. They answer questions about maintaining
accuracy, access, security, and control of personal information
collected by the site, as well as how information will be used,
and whether it will be provided to third parties. If you don't
see Site-Seeing on the Internet: A Traveler's Guide to Cyberspace
How can I prevent companies from using my personal information
More organizations are offering consumers choices about how
their personal information is used. For example, many let you
"opt out" of having your information shared with others
or used for marketing purposes. For more information see Privacy:
What You Do Know Can Protect You and Privacy Choices for Your
Personal Financial Information. You also can visit the FTC websites
Privacy Initiatives and National Do Not Call Registry.
- When should
I provide my Social Security number? Your employer and financial
institution will likely need your SSN for wage and tax reporting
purposes. Other businesses may ask you for your SSN to do a
credit check, like when you apply for a car loan. Sometimes,
however, they simply want your SSN for general record keeping.
If someone asks for your SSN, ask the following questions:
you need it?
How will it be used?
How do you protect it from being stolen?
What will happen if I don't give it to you?
If you don't provide your SSN, some businesses may not provide
you with the service or benefit you want. Getting satisfactory
answers to your questions, though, will help you to decide whether
you want to share your SSN with the business.