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Identity Theft Guide

Identity theft is an everyday occurrence and becoming very difficult to guard against. Fortunately, there are several resources to protect you or help if you've become a victim. The U.S. Government's site is an extremely helpful guide, identitytheft.gov.

Protecting your personal information is the first step in helping reduce your risk of identity theft. There are four main ways to do it:

Keeping Your Personal Information Secure Offline

  • 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.
  • Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home.
  • Before you share information 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.
  • 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.

Keeping Your Devices Secure

  • Use Security Software
    Install anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your preference to update these protections often. Protect against intrusions and infections that can compromise your computer files or passwords by installing security patches for your operating system and other software programs.
  • Avoid Phishing Emails
    Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from someone you don’t know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that captures your passwords or other information you type.
  • Be Wise About Wi-Fi
    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.
  • Lock Up Your Laptop
    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.
  • Read Privacy Policies
    Yes, they can be long and complex, but they tell you how the site maintains accuracy, access, security, and control of the personal information it collects; how it uses the information, and whether it provides information to third parties.

Keeping Your Personal Information Secure Online

Know who you share your information with. Store and dispose of your personal information securely.

  • Be Alert to Impersonators
    Make sure you 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. If a company that claims to have an account with you sends email asking for personal information, don’t click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service.
  • Safely Dispose of Personal Information
    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.
  • Encrypt Your Data
    Keep your browser secure. 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.
  • Keep Passwords Private
    Use strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank, and other accounts. Be creative, use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters.
  • Don’t Overshare on Social Networking Sites
    If you post too much information about yourself, 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. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites.

Securing Your Social Security Number

  • Keep a close hold on your Social Security number and ask questions before deciding to share it. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification. If someone asks you to share your SSN or your child’s, ask:
    • Why they need it
    • How it will be used
    • How they will protect it
    • What happens if you don’t share the number
  • The decision to share is yours. A business may not provide you with a service or benefit if you don’t provide your number. Sometimes you will have to share your number. Your employer and financial institutions need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes. A business may ask for your SSN so they can check your credit when you apply for a loan, rent an apartment, or sign up for utility service.

For additonal information, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/identity-theft