There are three different types of identity theft: Account Takeover, Application Fraud, and Criminal Identity Fraud. In an account takeover, your existing credit card or account number are used to purchase products and services. In an application fraud, the thief uses your SSN or other identifying information in order to open new credit accounts in your name. During a criminal identity fraud, your identity is taken to commit a crime, enter a country, or commit acts of terrorism.
There are many ways identity theft can occur. An ID thief can steal your mail or wallet which contains information about your identification, credit, and personal finances. The thief can also use personal information you have on the Internet or scam you by email. He/she can even obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord or employer.
One way to help prevent theft is to monitor your mailbox. Install a locked mailbox at your residence, and if possible, promptly remove mail after it has been delivered. Another safer alternative is to have your mail delivered to a post office box. When paying bills by check, deposit your outgoing mail at your local U.S. Post Office.
Before throwing out documents that contain personal information, destroy these documents in a cross-cut shredder. Also remove all identifying information from junk mail before throwing it out or recycling it, and cut up/disfigure numbers on old credit cards, bank cards, etc. before throwing them out.
Do not carry around extra credit cards, your Social Security card, your birth certificate, or your passport. Also do not record your bank account number, PINs, or passwords in your wallet or purse. Try not to take out your wallet until you actually need it, and never put your wallet down alongside a cash register.
If a business requests your Social Security Number (SSN), ask if an alternative number can be used. Do not provide your SSN on job applications – instead offer it when you are interviewed. Examine your Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefits Estimate Statement each year to check for fraud.
Do not use the same password for all of your secure information, and try to create and memorize passwords and PINs that combine letters and numbers. Avoid using private or strange ATMs – they may be rigged to skim data off your card.
Install a firewall on your computer to prevent hackers form obtaining personal data from your hard drive. Also install virus protection software; password-protect files that contain sensitive data. Before discarding your old computer, use a hard drive “wipe” or shredding program.
Keep all financial and medical records containing identity information in a secure location at home. Ask all financial institutions, doctors’ offices, etc., what they do with your private information. Verify that records are kept in a secure location, and ask about the institutions’ disposal procedures.
To be removed from marketing and promotional lists, write to Equifax, Inc., Experian, and TransUnion. Register with the Direct Marketing Association to put your name on a “delete” file. To help reduce unsolicited emails, you can register at www.dmaconsumers.org/offemaillist.html.
Do not put your telephone number, credit card account number, or SSN on your checks. Have new checks delivered to your bank – not to your home address – and pick them up yourself. Use a permanent fine-tip marker or pen when writing out checks to discourage tampering.
Get credit cards and business cards with your picture on them, and keep your credit card in sight whenever a salesperson has it. Try to reduce the number of credit cards you use. When shopping, remember to put credit card receipts in your wallet, not in the shopping bag.
Having your name and address removed from the phone book and reverse directories will help prevent solicitations. You can also sign up for the FTC Do Not Call Registry at (888) 382-1222. When a solicitor calls you at home or at work, never provide them with any personal information.
Every month, carefully review your statements from your credit card, bank, brokerage, and phone (including cell). If you do not receive a billing statement on time, find out why. Your statement may have been stolen or diverted to another address. Report any discrepancies or errors with your statements immediately.
Order your credit report once or twice a year. Once you receive your reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries you did not initiate, accounts you did not open, and unexplained debts. Check that all information is correct. If you see anything suspicious, notify the credit bureau.
Click here to find out what you should do if a person steals your identity: What to do if You Become a Victim of Identity Theft