How can I protect myself?
Although there is no way to make sure that your personal information is totally safe, you can take steps to avoid becoming a victim.
- Protect your mail. Send and receive mail safely. Mail your bills from a secure location and do not leave sensitive mail sitting in your mailbox for extended periods.
- Shred documents with personal information. Shred or otherwise destroy any statements, documents or records which contain personal or financial information after they are no longer needed.
- Keep a close eye on personal documents and credit cards. Although there are always new schemes hatched to steal your identity, the most common form of identity theft continues to be obtaining personal information through lost or stolen documents, checkbooks or credit cards. Do not keep information that you no longer need in your purse or wallet. Specifically, do not carry your Social Security card with you unless you know you will need it that day. Do not keep personal identification numbers attached to credit, debit or ATM cards.
- Be careful about where you store your information at home. Store important information in a safe place in your home. Do not leave financial records lying around your house for prying eyes to see.
- Be safe online. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them all regularly. Be sure to set up your operating system and web browser software properly, and update them regularly. Avoid using obvious passwords like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number. For tips from the federal government and the technology industry about protecting yourself from Internet fraud, and securing your computer, visit OnGuardOnline.gov.
- Do not share personal information over the Internet. Never respond to an email that asks you to transmit personal information over the Internet. Do not get reeled in by a phishing scam. Legitimate companies will not make such requests. Remember that your bank or credit card issuers already have your account numbers, Personal Identification Numbers, access codes, passwords, Social Security number and other information they need. They will not email you to ask for it.
- Beware of giving personal information over the phone. Know who you are dealing with, and do not fall for the pretexting con. When in doubt, hang up and get the business’s phone number from an independent source.