Preventing Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when an individual or group of individuals obtain and utilize your personal information (date of birth, social security number, credit card/checking/banking account numbers, etc.) for personal gain.

The frequency of this crime is increasing dramatically, as the Federal Trade Commission reported that there were over 9 million identity theft complaints filed in 2004.

The following is a list of cost-effective precautions that can maximize your level of protection against identity thieves:

  1. Do not put your social security number, driver's license number, telephone number, or date of birth on your personal checks.  In addition, protect this information at all times from "Shoulder Surfers" who look for victims in public locations such as malls, airports, etc.  Be especially alert for these thieves at car rental counters, hotels, airport check-in counters, public telephones, etc. 
  2. Memorize all personal numbers, passwords, and PINS.  If you write them down for future reference, place them in a secure place.  Use a fictitious, even absurd, password, rather than passwords that publicly identify you (family name, address, pet name, etc.) as passwords.
  3. Use a cross-cut shredder to dispose of all documents (bills, personal communications, applications for credit cards, outdated credit cards, etc.) that contain personal information, when you are finished with them.
  4. Never provide personal information when responding to telephone solicitations.  And remember:  If the telephone offer is too good to be true, it's too good to be true.  In other words, it's a fraud.
  5. Monitor your financial statements regularly and report any discrepancies to your bank/credit card company immediately.
  6. Never put your credit card number on an Internet Web site, unless you are absolutely sure that it is a reputable company that uses encryption techniques to provide its consumers security.  If you're not sure about the security of a Web site, you shouldn't enter your credit card information.
  7. Do not have your checking account checks delivered to your mailbox because it's too easy for a thief to drive by your house and take them out of the mailbox before you get home from work.  Instead, pick up your checking account checks at the bank.

If you have fallen victim to an identity thief, you should take the following steps immediately:

  • Report the theft of your identity to your local police agency.
  • Report the theft of your identity to every financial institution with which you have credit and close your credit accounts.  Close the accounts that have been tampered with and those that have been fraudulently opened.  When you open new accounts, avoid using the same passwords.  Remember:  Your passwords should have no connection to information that is publicly known about you.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports with one of the following consumer credit companies:

Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Clearinghouse
(877) 438-4338

Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline
(800) 269-0271

TransUnion
(800) 680-7289

Experian
(888) 397-3742

Equifax
(800) 525-6285