What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a serious crime that occurs when someone uses your name, social security number, credit card number or other identifying information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.

Every year millions of consumers fall victim to identity (ID) theft crimes and businesses expose millions more due to data breaches of confidential consumer and employee information. As a result, ID theft is costing consumers and businesses billions of dollars each year and is taking a severe emotional toll as well.

While you cannot completely prevent ID theft from occurring, there are ways to protect yourself. Taking proactive steps now can reduce the debilitating impacts of the crime and help you restore your good name more quickly.

Education is the key. Safeguard yourself against this crime today.

How do identity thieves operate?

Despite your best efforts to manage the flow of your personal information or to keep it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to gain access to your data. They may:

  • Steal records or information while they're on the job
  • Bribe an employee who has access to these records
  • Hack into a business's computer system
  • Con information out of employees
  • Steal your mail, including bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks, and tax information
  • Rummage through trash dumps
  • Get your credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your report
  • Steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a data storage device in a practice known as "skimming." They may swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach the device to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card
  • Steal your wallet or purse
  • Complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location
  • Steal personal information they find in your home
  • Steal personal information from you through email or phone by posing as legitimate companies and claiming that you have a problem with your account. This practice is known as "phishing" online, or pretexting by phone.

How Do I Really Protect My Identity?

Americans spend millions of hours each year resolving problems related to ID theft. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to prevent an ID take-over.

  • Don't leave your wallet or statements exposed or unprotected at home.
  • Purchase and use a good shredder for all sensitive documents.
  • Keep track of your credit card receipts and carbons. Photocopy both sides of every card you carry so you know who to contact if your cards are lost or stolen.
  • Review all account statements carefully and pull a credit report periodically to quickly spot suspicious entries. Also, don't forget to take an occasional inventory of your wallet.
  • Never tell anyone your card number over the phone, unless you initiate the phone call. Watch out for solicitors that harass you to contribute or use strong emotional appeals.
  • Never allow your credit card number to be used as identification for a check.
  • Remove your Social Security Number from your driver's license and checks.
  • Collect your mail regularly, destroy unwanted solicitations of credit, and opt out of direct marketing lists.
  • Protect yourself online with a firewall, anti-phishing software, anti-virus software, regular operating system updates and strong passwords that change frequently.