Identity theft involves the impersonation of an individual through the fraudulent use of his or her personal and account information - e.g., driver's license, Social Security number, bank account and other numbers, as well as usernames and passwords.
Identity thieves obtain information in a number of ways:
- From the trash
- By stealing mail, purses and other personal items
- By copying credit card or other information during a transaction
- Through phishing attacks
- By submitting false address changes
Avoid being a victim of a social engineer or scam artist by being an educated and aware online consumer. Learn more by visiting OnGuard Online, a service of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and other federal agencies. OnGuard Online provides information about avoiding scams, understanding mobile apps and Wi-Fi networks, securing your home computer, and protecting family members.
If you are a victim of an Internet crime, report it to IC3, a service of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center. You should also report attempted identity theft to the local authorities as well as to the Federal Trade Commission's Complaint Assistant Application.
Identity theft prevention & protecting your personal information
While there is no way to completely eliminate the risks of fraud or identity theft, there are things that you can do to help protect yourself and minimize the risk.
- Protect your Social Security number. Remove your Social Security number printed on anything - such as checks. Keep your Social Security card not in your wallet, but in a secure place within your home.
- Don't give out personal information to unknown callers. If an unknown caller asks for your personal or financial information, tell them you will call them back to confirm the inquiry, and then either verify that the company is legitimate, or if it's a bank or credit card company, call them back using a number from your bill or your card.
- Regularly review bills and account statements. Make sure you recognize and authorized all charges, checks, and/or withdrawals. If a regular bill doesn't arrive, call the company to find out why - it could mean that a thief has redirected your mail to another address.
- Protect important documents at home. Keep your personal information and important documents in a secure place in your home, like a locked file cabinet or a safe.
- Shred documents containing personal information. Once you've paid your bills and reconciled your accounts, shred old account statements, bills, receipts, pre-approved credit offers, and other documents that contain personal information before you throw them away.
- Protect your mail from theft. Don't leave outgoing mail (like bill payments) in an unsecured mailbox. Use a locking mailbox or take it to a post box or your local post office. If you are planning to be away from home, call or go online to contact the U.S. Postal Service and request a vacation hold.
- Streamline your wallet. Carry only the credit and/or debit cards, checks and/or cash that you need for the day.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Be conscious of people standing nearby when you are making purchases or using an ATM. Thieves have been known to copy credit card information or take pictures of cards with the camera of their mobile phone.
- Check your credit report regularly (at least once each year). Make sure the information about you is accurate and that it includes only those accounts and activities you've authorized.