What is identity theft?
The Federal Trade Commission is your national resource for Identity Theft information. Please visit their website, http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/ for additional information and suggestions. You can also find useful information on the U.S. Department of Education's website.
Identity theft occurs when an unauthorized individual acquires some of your personal information -- your bank and/or credit card numbers, your income, your social security number, or even something as simple as your name, address, and telephone numbers -- and uses it to commit fraud or theft. Specifically, the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 makes it a federal crime when someone "knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law."
How can a theif get my information?
Identity thieves may use a variety of methods to secure personal information about another individual, including:
- stealing wallets and purses containing your identification and credit and bank cards
- stealing your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards and tax information
- completing a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location
- rummaging through your trash for personal data in a practice known as "dumpster diving"
- using personal information you share on the Internet.
How can I manage my ID information?
Manage your personal information cautiously and wisely by taking the following steps:
- Only carry the identification and cards you need at any given time. Carry only the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you'll actually need.
- Do not make Internet purchases from sites that are unsecured (check for a padlock icon on the site to ensure its safety).
- Avoid writing a PIN number, social security number (SSN) or pass code on any of your credit cards or on anything you plan to throw out.
- While making a purchase in person, keep your eye on the cashier - never look away while your card is being processed. Never leave your receipts behind after making a purchase.Destroy all carbons.
- Be sure someone you trust collects your mail in your absence. If you are leaving town for a week or more, ask the post office to hold your mail until your return. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
- Secure your social security card in a safe place at home; do not carry it in your wallet.
- Create passwords or codes that are not obvious; avoid using your birth date, your mother's maiden name or your pet's name. Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
- Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.
- Be aware of "shoulder surfers." Shield your numbers when using an ATM or making a purchase at a department store.
- Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and Transunion once a year. By checking your report on a regular basis you can catch mistakes and fraud before they wreak havoc on your personal finances. Consumers should monitor their credit reports and are authorized one free copy per year. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com for more information.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.