Identity theft can take many forms and can impact your bank account and your credit score. Take steps to secure your personal information in both online and real-world transactions.
How to Stay Safe Online
Identity thieves can strike even if you've been very careful with your personal information. Use this tips to stay when on browsing the internet.
To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the Internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.
Know whom you share your information with. Store and dispose of your personal information securely.
Know who is getting your personal or financial information. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with.
Do not click on links in an email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service. Or, call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.
Be creative. Think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, “I want to see the Pacific Ocean” could become 1W2CtPo.
Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected.
Keep financial information on your laptop only when necessary. Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you’re finished. That way, if your laptop is stolen, it will be harder for a thief to get at your personal information.
An identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer ‘challenge’ questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information. Consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites.
Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive. Before you dispose of a mobile device, delete information permanently, after transferring it to your new device. Remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card and delete your phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, web search history, and photos.
Keeping Your Personal Information Secure Offline
Identity theft can happen even when you're not online. Use these tips to keep your identity safe.
Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home, and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work. Keep your information secure from roommates or workers who come into your home.
When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home. Make a copy of your Medicare card and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry the copy with you — unless you are going to use your card at the doctor’s office.
Before you share information, such as your Social Security number, at your workplace, a business, your child's school, or a doctor's office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.
Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer.
Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out. Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services or products.
Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office. Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox. If you won’t be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail. When you order new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home, unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock.
Fraud and Identity Theft Reporting
Did you find a strange transaction on your card statement or receive medical bills for a doctor you never visited? If you suspect you're a victim of identity theft, find out what to do next and how we can help you prevent any further damage.
If you suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft or another scam, the first step is to put a fraud alert on your credit file with all three credit-reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Placing a fraud alert is free. The initial fraud alert stays on your credit report for 90 days. Record the dates you communicate with the credit reporting agencies and keep copies of your correspondence on file. If needed, you can renew the alert after 90 days.
After you place a fraud alert on your credit reports, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each credit reporting company. Read the reports; check to see if your name, address, Social Security number, accounts, and other information are correct.
An Identity Theft Report will help you resolve problems with credit reporting companies, debt collectors, and businesses that allowed the identity thief to open new accounts in your name. The Report can help you:
- Get fraudulent information permanently removed from your credit report
- Prevent a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft or selling the debts to others for collection
- Get an extended fraud alert put on your credit report
If the report shows accounts you did not open or debts that are not yours, contact the credit reporting companies to report the fraud and have them corrected. You may want to contact the security or fraud department of each company where an account was misused or opened without your permission, too. Ask the company to send you proof that they corrected or closed the problem accounts.
File an identity theft complaint with the FTC online at http://ftc.gov/idtheft or by phone at 1.877.438.4338. Take your completed FTC identity theft affidavit to your local police, or the police where the theft occurred, to file a police report. Get a copy of the police report or the report number. Your FTC identity theft affidavit plus your police report makes an Identity Theft Report. Send copies to companies where you report fraud. Ask them to remove or correct fraudulent information in your accounts.