There are many simple things that you can do to help protect yourself to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, Social Security Number (SSN), or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
Review your bank and credit card statements often for any unusual activity. Destroy receipts after you have reviewed your statements. It is a good idea to copy the front and back of your credit cards and keep those copies in a safe place so that if your cards are stolen from you, you will have all the information you need to cancel them immediately. Review your credit report once a year to be certain that it doesn't include accounts that you have not opened. You can order it for free from Annualcreditreport.com. Don't use your credit card number on the Internet unless the site has a secured, encrypted system (look for "HTTPS" in the URL or the lock icon in the corner of your screen).
Consider all the personal information you carry with you every day. Keep documents with important information you don’t need often, like your Social Security card, at home in a secure location.
Place your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or secured mailboxes. Collect your incoming mail promptly, and place a hold on your mail if you will be gone for several days. Destroy junk mail credit card offers before discarding them. Shred all old bank and credit card statements. Documents containing account numbers, SSN, or your driver’s license number should all be shredded before discarding. Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender. Missed bills can be an indication that your credit card company has received a change of address from someone other than you.
Do not have your SSN, driver’s license number, or home phone number pre-printed on your checks. When you pay your credit card bill with a check, do not write your account number on the check.
If you sell or donate your personal computer or cell phone, be sure to clear all data from its hard drive. Treat your mobile devices with the same care that you use to guard your desktop or laptop. Secure them with passwords and security software. You can even set up ways to delete everything on your phone in the case of theft to protect your private information.
Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Do not reuse the same password for each account! Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases. Free password managers like LastPass and Dashlane can help you use different, complex passwords or every account.
Turn on two-factor authentication wherever possible and sign up for account alerts. Text messages and emails about account activity are the best way to detect suspicious activity as early as possible.
Be careful on public wi-fi. Thieves can intercept data to find your account login information, or credit card number. Update sharing and firewall settings when you're on a public wi-fi network. Consider using a virtual private network, which can give you the privacy of secured private network.
There is a range of fake apps on the market. In fact, Google recently removed over 50 apps from its marketplace, as they were found to contain malware that would allow a criminal to virtually take over your device. To avoid being fooled, look for spelling errors in the description of the app and never click on pop-up advertising in an app.
Unfortunately, children can also be victims of identity theft. Keeping their personal information, such as their SSN in a secure a location is the first step. The most common perpetrators are "family friends” who have access to personal information. Unfortunately, there are a lot of organizations that ask for SSNs even though they don't need it. Parents should ask why the organization needs personal information before giving it. Children should also be taught to be careful about what they share online as the start using social media.
If you are a victim of identity theft, there are things that you can do to reverse the damage and take your accounts back into your control.
Keep track of who you called, the name of the person you spoke to, the date, details of the call, and next action required. Any correspondence you are asked to provide should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.
The FTC has built a comprehensive checklist, complete with current contact information for those you need to notify, so you can be sure you aren’t forgetting any important steps. Find them here.
Remember that you are not responsible for debt incurred as a result of identity theft! If debt collectors attempt to have you pay the outstanding balance, inform them you are the victim of identity theft. Request their fraud affidavit form and ask them to confirm in writing that you do not owe the debt and that the account has been closed. Though recovering from identity theft is a time consuming, often frustrating process, DO NOT pay any bills that are the result of fraud.
DO NOT cover fraudulent checks. DO NOT allow anyone to intimidate or coerce you into paying fraudulent bills. Your credit rating should not be permanently affected, and no legal action should be taken against you.