Identity theft is a crime in which an impostor obtains key pieces of personal identifying information from individuals such as Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers and uses them for personal gain. It can start with a lost or stolen wallet, stolen mail, a data breach, computer virus, phishing scams, or paper documents thrown out in the trash or recycling. Identity theft continues to be one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and can involve financial, criminal, governmental, and medical information. The number of Americans who have experienced identity theft has surpassed 27 million, with the incidence rate increasing every year.
The following are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of identity theft.
- Do not give out financial information such as checking and credit card numbers, or your Social Security number, unless you know the person or organization. Report lost or stolen checks and credit cards immediately.
- Notify your financial institution and/or credit card company of suspicious phone or online inquiries such as those asking to verify account information or award a prize.
- Closely guard any personal identification numbers, passwords, and ATM and financial receipts.
- Shred any financial solicitations (including credit card offers), bank statements, and billing statements before disposing of them. Put outgoing mail into a secure, official Postal Service collection box.
- If regular bills fail to reach you, call the company to find out why. If your bills include questionable items, investigate immediately to head off any possible fraud.
- Periodically contact the major credit reporting companies to review your credit report and make certain the information is correct. You can receive a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies through www.annualcreditreport.com, a service provided in accordance with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act).
For more information on how to protect yourself or what to do if you become a victim of identity theft, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft, a service provided by the Federal Trade Commission to Detect, Deter and Defend against identity theft.