According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 17.6 million United States residents (age 16 or older) were victims of some form of identity theft in 2014. Criminals use a variety of methods to steal personal information (i.e. social security numbers, credit card numbers, driver’s license information) from victims. These identity thieves use the stolen information to impersonate their victims in order to steal as much of their money as possible in the shortest amount of time. It is, therefore, imperative that individuals take steps to protect their personal information and reduce their risk of becoming an identity theft victim.
Below are a few steps that you can take in order to protect your personal information:
1. Never give out your personal information over the phone, by mail or on the internet unless you initiate the call or transaction and it is with a business that you trust.
2. Avoid using debit cards when shopping online. Credit cards have better protection against fraud and do not give criminals direct access to your banking account(s) like debit cards do.
3. Limit the number of credit and debit cards you have in your possession at any one time. This will reduce the number of compromised accounts in the event that your wallet is lost or stolen.
4. Monitor your credit card and banking account activity frequently. You are entitled to one free credit report each year from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).
5. Shred any papers that have your personal information like your social security number or account information on them. Shred credit card offers, courtesy checks from your bank, monthly bills, receipts with your signature on them, or tax information. Better yet, call your bank and ask them to stop sending courtesy checks, opt-out of prescreened credit or insurance offers, and go “paperless” on as many accounts as possible to reduce the number of account statements mailed to your home. You can opt-out of prescreened credit and insurance offers at www.optoutprescreen.com or www.dmachoice.org.
6. Protect your personal information on the web. Install firewalls on home computer(s), update virus and malware protection software frequently, password protect files containing sensitive information, and only do business with online companies that provide transaction security protection.
For more information about protecting yourself from identity theft or recovering from fraud check out these resources: