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Print friendly Modified February 26, 2013
What Is Identity Theft?
Routine steps we can all take to protect our personal information and reduce our risk of identity theft.
( source: Federal Trade Commission )

Top 10 tips to protect your privacy:

1. Monitor your credit report – look for errors and fraud. You have the right to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Order one report every four months so that you can monitor your credit reports on an ongoing basis.

2. Reduce unwanted telemarketing phone calls. Register with the National Do Not Call Registry. If you receive a call from a company with which you do business, ask to be placed on its internal “Do Not Call List.”

3. Protect the personal information on your smartphone. Smartphone users are 33% more likely to become a victim of identity theft than non-users. Password-protect your smartphone and use the security lockout feature so that the phone automatically locks after a certain amount of time not in use.

4. Secure your computer and portable devices. Use up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware programs and firewalls. Encrypt sensitive information before storing or sending. Make sure that all of your software is current and patched.

5. Practice good password hygiene with your online accounts. Do not use the same password for multiple accounts. Instead, use strong passwords that are unique to each account. This is particularly important for your most sensitive online accounts (for example, your banking, email, and social networking accounts).

6. Be aware of online data brokers. There are hundreds of websites that publish your personal information (for example, your address, phone number, and date of birth) for anyone to see. Data brokers get your information from public records and other sources. Ask your congressional representatives and state attorney general to regulate the online data broker industry.

7. Use the “front page” rule on social networks. Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t mind seeing on  the front page of the newspaper. Use privacy settings to control who sees your posts, but keep in mind that even the strongest privacy settings won’t prevent someone from re-sharing what you posted.

8. Don’t use a debit card. Debit cards offer less legal protection than credit cards in the event of fraudulent purchases. A lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised debit card can result in your bank account being wiped out by a thief, without using your PIN number. Use a credit card instead and ask your bank to replace your debit card with an “ATM only” card.

9. Reduce your junk mail. Remove yourself from as many national mailing lists as possible by registering for the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service. You must renew your registration after three years.

10. Safeguard your Social Security number (SSN). Keep your Social Security card and other documents that contain your SSN in a safe and secure location. Push back when companies ask for your SSN. Ask them to explain their authority for requiring it, and what the consequences are if you do not provide it.

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission.  What can you do as a victim of identity theft?

1.  Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review the reports carefully.

Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports so make sure to request them. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain. Three nationwide consumer reporting companies can create an initial 90-day fraud alert. Calling one is sufficient:

  • Equifax:  1.800.525.6285, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experian:  1.888.397.3742, P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
  • TransUnion:  1.800.680.7289, Fraud Victim Assistance division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
  • Free Annual Credit Reports

2. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.

  • Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing with copies of supporting documents.
  • Consider using the Identity Theft Affidavit at:  to support your written statement.
  • Ask for written verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
  • Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.

3. File a police report. A police report will help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.

4. Report your complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.

    • Online: IdentityTheft Information Center (FTC)
    • Phone: 1.877.ID.THEFT (438.4338) or TTY, 1.866.653.4261
    • Mail: Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580
    • Call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.