idtheftIdentity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, affecting half a million new victims each year. Identity theft or identity fraud is the taking of a victim’s identity to obtain credit or credit cards, steal money from a victim’s existing accounts, apply for loans, establish accounts with utility companies, rent an apartment, file bankruptcy, or obtain a job using the victim’s name. Thousands of dollars can be stolen without the victim knowing about it for months or even years.

To protect yourself from identity theft, please consider the following tips:

  • Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated contact or know with whom you are dealing. Identity thieves will pose as bank representatives, Internet service providers and even government officials to get you to reveal identifying information.
  • Shred all documents, including preapproved credit applications received in your name, insurance forms, bank checks and statements you are discarding and other financial information.
  • Do not use your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your social security number, or a similar series of numbers as a password for anything.
  • Minimize the identification information and the number of cards that you carry. Take what you’ll actually need. Don't carry your social security card, birth certificate, or passport unless necessary.
  • Do not put your social security number on checks. If a business requests your social security number, give them an alternate number and explain why. If a government agency requests your social security number, there must be a privacy notice accompanying the request.
  • Do not put your telephone number on checks.
  • Be careful using ATMs, where someone may look over your shoulder to get your PIN number, thereby gaining access to your accounts.
  • Make a list of all your credit card account numbers and bank account numbers with customer service phone numbers and keep it in a safe place.
  • When you order new credit cards in the mail or previous ones have expired, watch the calendar to make sure you get the card within the appropriate time frame. If the card is not received within that time, call the credit card grantor immediately to find out if the card has been sent. If you don’t receive the card, check to make sure a change of address was not filed.
  • Do not put your credit card number on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secure site.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if bills don’t arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address.
  • Order a copy of your credit report every year.
  • Correct all mistakes on your credit report in writing. Send the letters return receipt requested. Identify the problems item by item and send with a copy of the credit report back to the credit reporting agency. You should hear from the agency within 30 days.