What is identity theft? It's a crime where someone steals and uses another person's personally identifiable information (PII) as their own. Victims of identify theft may see unauthorized credit card and account usage, unauthorized access to personal accounts, or even missing money and assets.
How do identity thieves get access to my information?
Thieves have many different strategies for collecting personal information, including but not limited to:
- Stealing purses and wallets
- Stealing mail
- Dumpster diving for thrown away confidential documents and sensitive information
- Phishing — sending fake emails from legitimate businesses and organizations and asking for personal information
- Shoulder surfing — watching users enter personal information while in public places.
- Skimming — using digital storage devices to steal credit and debit card information
- Pretexting — using false pretenses to get your information from businesses, organizations, or even yourself
- Getting digital data from thrown away devices and equipment
- Using the role of customer or employee to steal files from a business or organization
- Hacking into devices or files
It is extremely important to protect your data from unauthorized users, so that it cannot be used to stalk, steal, or commit fraud. There is no guaranteed way to avoid identity theft, but you can minimize your risks.
Protect Yourself—and Your Data
The easiest way to protect your data is to enable 2-factor authentication, as well as use PINs and secure passwords. Here are a few additional strategies you can use to keep your data as safe as possible:
- Only share your Social Security Number when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, ask for a randomly generated ID number.
- Do not give out your personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact or know you can trust the person on the other side.
- Review online accounts, like credit card and bank statements, regularly for unauthorized charges.
- Regularly check your credit report for suspicious and/or unauthorized charges. Request your free copies of your credit report from the 3 major reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
- Always shred and destroy documents containing personal information. Don't just throw them away. This includes credit card offers you receive in the mail, bank statements, phone bills, etc.
- Destroy digital data when no longer in use. Make sure data on a mobile device, tablet, computer system, hard drive, CD, DVD, etc. is completely destroyed before you sell, trade or dispose.
- Be wary of e-mail scams. If you did not enter an international lottery, you probably haven't won anything. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Do not enter sensitive information into a public computer.
What should I do if I think I'm a victim of identity theft?
If you think or know you are a victim, take the following actions as soon as possible to minimize damage to your accounts.
- Contact companies, including banks, where you have accounts for unauthorized transactions.
- Contact the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and review your credit reports for any unauthorized activity.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and local police.