What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a serious crime. It can disrupt your finances, credit history, and reputation, and take time, money, and patience to resolve. Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission.
Identity thieves might:
- Go through trash cans and dumpsters, stealing bills and documents that have sensitive information.
- Work for businesses, medical offices, or government agencies, and steal personal information on the job.
- Misuse the name of a legitimate business, and call or send emails that trick you into revealing personal information.
- Pretend to offer a job, a loan, or an apartment, and ask you to send personal information to "qualify."
- Steal your wallet, purse, backpack, or mail, and remove your credit cards, driver's license, passport, health insurance card, and other items that show personal information.
How to Protect Your Information
- Read your credit reports. You have a right a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order all three reports at once, or order one report every four months. To order, go to annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
- Read your bank, credit card, and account statements, and the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan. If a statement has mistakes or doesn't come on time, contact the business.
- Shred all documents that show personal, financial, and medical information before you throw them away.
- Don't respond to email, text, and phone messages that ask for personal information. Legitimate companies don't ask for information this way. Delete the messages.
- Create passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Don't use the same password for more than one account.
- If you shop online or bank online, use websites that protect your financial information with encryption. An encrypted site has "https" at the beginning of the web address; "s" is for secure.
- If you use a public wireless network, don't send information to any website that isn't fully encrypted.
- Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall on your computer.
- Set your computer's operating system, web browser, and security system to update automatically.