Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information and uses it to take your money or to commit fraud or other crimes. It’s much more than an inconvenience—it can devastate your credit rating and derail financial security. Here’s how you can protect yourself:
Protect your Social Security Number
Not every request for your Social Security number is an effort to steal your identity—but not every request is mandatory. Provide your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary, and do not carry your Social Security number with you. In general, you will need to provide your SSN to:
- Employers for wage and tax reporting purposes.
- Financial institutions, such as banks or brokerage firms, for tax reporting purposes.
- Banks, credit card issuers or other lenders if you apply for a loan or new credit card.
- Landlords or utility providers (such as a power company) for a credit check.
- Government agencies to obtain services and to file your taxes.
- Credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian or TransUnion—or AnnualCreditReport.com to obtain your credit report or credit score.
When an individual or entity asks for your SSN, be sure to ask the following questions to help you decide whether to reveal it:
- Why do you need my SSN?
- Will you accept a different form of identification (such as a telephone number, driver’s license or passport)?
- How will you use my SSN?
- How do you protect my SSN and other information from being stolen or misused?
- What will happen if I don’t provide my SSN?
Handle your trash and mail carefully
To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, always shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards that you’re discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
Be sure to drop your outgoing mail containing personally identifying information in post office collection boxes or at your local post office rather than in an unsecured mailbox.
Be on guard when using the internet
The Internet can leave you vulnerable to online scammers, identity thieves, and more. For practical tips to help you be on guard against Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information, visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov.
Verify a source before sharing information
Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact and are sure you know who you’re dealing with. Identity thieves are clever and may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people to reveal their Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information.
Avoid email hack attacks
In the most serious cases, a compromised email account can lead not only to identity theft, but also to theft of your money. That’s why one of the most important first steps you should take if your email account has been hacked is to notify your brokerage firm and other financial institutions.