Identity theft happens every day, in every community.
Learn about what identity theft is, what you can do to guard against it, and what to do if it happens to you.
It’s Your Identity. Let’s Keep it That Way.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal or financial information without your permission, and the damage can be lasting and significant. Learn the steps to prevent identity theft, and if you’ve become a victim, what steps to take to stop the damage.
How does identity theft happen?
There are many different types of schemes identity criminals use. This can range from non-technological to technological schemes. The following is a listing of just some of the most common methods identity criminals have been known to use to obtain your personal information.
Credit Card Skimming and Shimming Devices
- Fraudsters install “skimming” and “shimming” devices on vulnerable ATMs and card readers to steal your credit card account information. Scammers can then use your credit card information to make fraudulent purchases or create “cloned” versions of your card.
- Data breaches take place when hackers break into services that you use and steal your stored information. This could include your name and email address as well as passwords, credit card numbers, and even your Social Security number (SSN).
Dumpster Diving and Mail Theft
- Your garbage and mail can contain sensitive details that you don’t even realize are there. Credit card offers and basic bills can include enough data to steal your identity. Criminals will often steal or go through your mail looking for these critical documents.
- Malware is one of the biggest threats to the security of your computer, tablet, phone, and other devices. Malware includes viruses, spyware, ransomware, and other unwanted software that gets secretly installed onto your device. Once malware is on your device, criminals can use it to steal your sensitive information, send you unwanted or inappropriate ads, demand payment to unscramble data encrypted by ransomware, and make your device vulnerable to even more malware.
Mobile Phone Theft
- Smartphones carry so much highly personal information for identity thieves, especially if your apps allow you to log in automatically without a password or fingerprint. If someone manages to steal and unlock your phone, it could allow them to view the information found in your apps, as well as in your emails, text messages, notes and more.
- For the most part, you can browse the internet safely, especially if you stick to well-known websites. But if you share any information on an unsecure website or a website that’s been compromised by hackers, you could be putting your sensitive information directly in the hands of a thief.
- If you use your computer or phone on a public network—airport, department store or coffee shop Wi-Fi—hackers may be able to “eavesdrop” on your connection. This means that if you type in a password, bank account or credit card number, Social Security number or anything else, an eavesdropper can easily intercept it and use it for their own purposes.
Keep Your Personal Information Secure
The most important step to take in protecting yourself from identity theft is assuring your sensitive information is secure — whether it is on paper, online, stored on your computer or on a mobile device.
Here are steps you can take to keep your information secure:
- Store documents that have your personal information, including financial documents, Social Security, Medicare and credit cards in a safe place at home and at work.
- Limit what you carry. Leave your social security card and Medicare card at home – unless you are going to need them for a specific reason.
- Don’t share your personal, financial or health plan information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have a trusted relationship with the requestor and you initiated the contact.
- Pick up your mail promptly and use a secure mailbox.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, loan and credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements, and similar documents when you no longer need them.
- Use different and strong passwords for each of your accounts – and then safeguard them.
- Before you sell, give away or dispose of a laptop, computer or mobile device, get rid of all the personal information you have stored on it.
Monitor Your Credit Reports, Bank and Credit Accounts
One of the most effective ways to protect against identity theft is to monitor your credit reports and billing statements so you can spot and report unauthorized activity.
Here are ways you can monitor your statements and reports:
- Order a free copy of your credit report by phone, toll-free at 1-877-322-8228, or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Open and read your bank account and credit billing statements when you receive them. Check for unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report any immediately.
- If you receive bills and financial statements by mail, be aware of when they normally arrive each month. Call the company if they don’t arrive on time.
- Statements may be missing because someone has changed your mailing addresses to hide fraudulent charges.
Report and Recover
What should you do if your identity is stolen?
If you believe your information may have been stolen and used fraudulently, you should report the suspicious activity immediately. It can be hard to know what to do and where to report it. Here are a few things to consider if you believe you’re a victim of identity theft.