Identity theft is a fraud committed or attempted using the identifying information of another person without authority. Often, identity thieves will use another individual's personal information such as a social security number, mother's maiden name, date of birth, or account number to fraudulently open new credit card accounts, charge existing credit card accounts, write checks, open financial accounts or obtain new loans.
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to obtain your personal information, including:
- Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records from their employers, or bribe employees who have access.
- Changing your address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a "change of address."
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
Some Tips to Avoid Identity Fraud:
Shred financial documents and paperwork (ATM receipts, credit statements, credit cards, bank statements, etc.) with personal information before you discard them.
Protect your social security number. DO NOT carry your social security card in your wallet or write your social security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary.
Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know with whom you are dealing.
Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date.
Don't use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your social security number.
Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house.
Reconcile your bank account monthly and notify your bank of discrepancies immediately.
Report unauthorized financial transactions to your bank, credit card company, and the police as soon as you detect them.
Review a copy of your credit report at least once each year. Notify the credit bureau in writing of any questionable entries and follow through until they are explained or removed.