Identity theft is a very real problem, especially in our increasingly connected world. However, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk of identity theft.
Papers and Documents
Never just throw away any document with sensitive information. This includes medical documents, bills, voided checks, and anything else with information you wouldn’t openly share with a stranger. Instead, shred these documents to make them unreadable. Basic home shredders are available for as little as $20 and they often prove to be a worth-while investment in the long run.
Never view or enter sensitive information on a public computer, and never transmit sensitive information on a public Wi-Fi network. When transmitting any sensitive information, including passwords or credit card numbers, make sure you have a secure connection by looking for “https” at the beginning of the website you are on, as well as a lock icon.
On Mozilla Firefox:
On Google Chrome:
Always make sure your computer has the latest system and program updates, as well as up-to-date anti-virus software. Protecting your computer protects your information, and therefore your identity.
Be careful what you post publicly online. Often, an identity thief can build a good enough profile of a person to successfully steal their identity just using the information publicly posted on that person’s Facebook or Twitter account. Go through the privacy settings available for any public account you have and consider restricting access to your information.
Phone and Email Scams
Always be wary of any phone calls or emails that request any form of sensitive information, even if they claim to be from a trusted source. A sense of urgency in giving them your sensitive information is a good sign that you are dealing with a scam. If you get an email claiming some issue with an account you have, don’t click any included links, but instead navigate to the site’s address manually to ensure you are connecting to the site you mean to, and verify the problem through the site that way. If you receive a call claiming to be from your bank, your insurance company, or even the IRS, and the caller is requesting sensitive information, unless you were expecting the call, hang up. Consider getting a tool for your phone such as PrivacyStar. PrivacyStar provides caller ID, scam reporting, and automatic call blocking from reported scam numbers.
If You Think Your Identity Has Been Stolen
If you find charges on your card that you didn’t make, or receive bills for products or services you didn’t procure, your identity might have been stolen. If this happens, you should immediately complete a few steps:
1) First, contact the company for the account with suspicious activity. Verify that you are dealing with an actual case of identity theft. If you are then confident that your identity has been stolen, complete the following steps.
2) Notify the three credit bureaus:
3) Place an initial fraud alert with one of the three credit bureaus.
4) Consider requesting a credit freeze with all three of the credit bureaus.
5) File a report with the FTC at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or 1-877-438-4338.
6) File a report with your local police department.
7) Contact the IRS at 1-800-908-4490 and file Form 14039, IRS Identity Theft Affidavit.
8) Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
For more information, as well as guided help addressing identity theft or possible identity theft, go to www.identitytheft.gov.