How to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity thieves use low-tech methods (stealing your wallet or even eavesdropping at key moments) as well as sophisticated Internet scams to rob people of their sensitive personal data. That’s why it’s critical to closely protect any documents, banking cards, or sensitive numbers that can be used by thieves for their personal gain – whether you’re at home, out and about in public, or surfing the Web.

Below are basic guidelines we have compiled to help you reduce the risk of identity theft, whether you are online or offline.

  • Monitor your credit closely. Your credit report contains information about your credit accounts and bill paying history so you can be tipped off when someone is impersonating you. Watch for suspicious signs, like accounts you did not open. You can also consider identity protection services, which range from credit monitoring to database scanning, for extra security.
  • Keep records of your financial data and transactions. Review your statements regularly for any activity or charges you did not make.
  • Install security software (firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware software) and keep it up-to-date as a safety measure against online intrusions.
  • Use an updated Web browser to make sure you're taking advantage of its current safety features.
  • Be wary of e-mail attachments and links in both e-mail and instant messages. Use caution even when the message appears to come from a safe sender, as identity information in messages can easily be spoofed.
  • Store sensitive data securely. Just as you keep sensitive paper documents under lock and key, secure sensitive online information. This can be done through file encryption software.
  • Shred documents (both paper and electronic) that contain personal or financial information before discarding them. This prevents dumpster diving and, in the online world, the ability for hackers to bypass information that has not been permanently deleted from your computer.
  • Protect your PII. Be cautious about giving out your personally identifiable information (PII) to anyone. Find out why the information is needed, and if it's absolutely necessary to give out. Be careful about the details you provide about yourself online, such as on social networking sites.
  • Stay alert to the latest scams. Awareness and caution are effective methods to counter fraud. Share security tips you learn with your friends and family.

But, what do you do if you think you may have already given your information to a scammer? Helpful sites like the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) have you covered! Refer to the ITRC’s fact sheet, “I Gave My Info to a Scam Artist, Now What” to find out the immediate steps to take, tips for dealing with authorities, and additional resources. On the ITRC’s website, you’ll also find specific information to help guide you through a variety of identity theft issues – including safety tips and tactics aimed specifically at college students, job seekers, and travelers.

Identity Finder
An estimated 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2008, a rise of more than 22 percent from the previous year.
Source: Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2009 Identity Fraud Survey Report
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