Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information and uses it fraudulently to make others believe they are you. Identity thieves may use your personal information for all sorts of reasons, like getting loans in your name, opening new credit cards or bank accounts in your name, getting access to your existing credit or bank accounts, applying for jobs in your name, obtaining identification in your name, and committing other crimes. Learning about identity theft is an important part of financial education for students.
An identity thief may get your personal information by:
- Posing as a business person and asking for your information over the phone or email (phishing)
- Stealing your wallet or pocketbook
- Picking through your mail or trash that has your personal information on it (dumpster diving)
- Diverting your mail to another mailbox
Accessing your personal accounts online or over the phone (hacking)
Pretending to be a landlord, employer, or someone else who has the legal right to request a copy of your credit report
There are some simple things you can do to protect yourself from identity thieves:
Closely monitor your credit report:
- Review your credit report at least annually and look for unusual activity. Dispute any errors immediately.
Secure your personal information:
- Keep sensitive personal information and credit cards in a close fitting pouch or front pocket – not in your purse or wallet in a back pocket.
- Remove all items from your wallet or purse containing your SSN.
- Always keep your financial and tax records in locked files in your home or office.
- Never keep your briefcase, purse, laptop, checkbook, etc. in your car and always carry them in a secure manner.
- Do not provide your personal information to anyone unless you initiated the contact and know who you are dealing with.
Protect your credit cards, debit cards & checks:
- Copy the contents of your wallet, so if it is stolen, you know what you need to report.
- Never sign a blank check.
- Opt out of all marketing programs from your bank and credit card company, including convenience checks.
- Have paychecks directly deposited into your bank account.
- Use a cross-cut shredder to shred credit card solicitations and other items containing your personal or account information.
- Review your checking account and credit card statements carefully for errors or unusual activity.
Protect your mail:
- Opt Out of unsolicited credit card & loan offers at www.optoutprescreen.com or 888-567-8688.
- Mail bills at a secure mailbox.
- Collect your delivered mail from your mailbox as soon as possible after delivery.
- Request a “vacation hold” when you go out of town - pick it up when you return.
Protect your computer, phone & tablet:
- Secure your electronic devices with a password or PIN and use a firewall program to prevent hackers from stealing your information.
- Don’t give your SSN, credit card or bank account numbers out over the phone, e-mail, or Internet – unless you know who you are dealing with or initiated the contact.
- Pay bills using automatic payments or online banking.
- Use a secure browser and only enter your personal or credit card information online when you are using a secure site.
- Don’t use automatic log in features.
- Always log off completely when you are finished.
If you believe you are the victim of identity theft:
Contact any one of the three national credit bureaus and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the three credit bureaus listed below:
Additional Steps to Take:
- After reviewing your credit report, close any accounts that you didn’t open and dispute any charges that you did not make. Carefully review all of your open bank and credit card accounts for unfamiliar activity. Close your existing checking and savings accounts and open new ones if you believe someone may have accessed or could access your accounts.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online, by calling the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or by writing to:
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
- File a police report with your local police department. This will provide you with extra protection when you dispute charges.