How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
The following tips can help lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card or other cards that show your SSN. Read, "Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number."
- Use caution when giving out your personal information. Scam artists "phish" for victims by pretending to be banks, stores or government agencies. They do this over the phone, in emails and in postal mail.
- Treat your trash carefully. Shred or destroy papers containing your personal information including credit card offers and "convenience checks" that you don't use.
- Protect your postal mail. Retrieve mail promptly. Discontinue delivery while out of town.
- Check your bills and bank statements. Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don't arrive on time. It might mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
- Check your credit reports. Review your credit report at least once a year. Check for changed addresses and fraudulent charges.
- Stop pre-approved credit offers. Pre-approved credit card offers are a target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).
- Ask questions. Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. If you're not satisfied with the answers, don't give your personal information.
- Protect your computer. Protect personal information on your computer by following good security practices.
- Use strong, non-easily guessed passwords.
- Use firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software that you update regularly.
- Download software only from sites you know and trust and only after reading all the terms and conditions.
- Don't click on links in pop-up windows or in spam email.
Steps to Take if Your Data Becomes Compromised or Stolen
Credit Reporting Agencies
If you have reason to believe your personal information has been compromised
or stolen, contact the Fraud Department of one of the three major credit
bureaus listed below.
A recent amendment to the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. Be aware that there's only one online source authorized to do so, annualcreditreport.com. For more information, please visit the Federal Trade Commission's page on obtaining your credit report at no cost. However, if you still need to contact the credit reporting agencies directly, contact by telephone or mail may be the most reliable method. Be cautious if requested to provide personal information over the Internet unless you are absolutely sure of the validity of the site.