Identity Theft and How to Prevent It!

Steps to take and things to consider to minimize the risk of ID theft

Unfortunately, there is no SURE prevention, but there are actions to take that limit the damage someone who abuses your name and credit can do.

  1. Order a copy of your credit report. An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports, at your request, once every 12 months.

    To order your free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies, go to or you can call the toll-free number 877.322.8228.

  2. Limit your credit cards. Periodically go through your cards and cancel those you do not absolutely need or use on a regular basis. Sign the back of cards you do keep with permanent ink.
  3. Do not use your mother's maiden name as a "personal password" on your credit cards. With today's ease of access to records, your mother's maiden name can be retrieved within a few key strokes of a computer keyboard — use some other name such as your first dog or some other item known only to you.
  4. Write down all your credit card numbers and the phone number to contact in case of loss or theft and store in a safe place where you can get to the list.
  5. Make a copy of your driver's license and your Social Security Card and store them with the credit card list. Better yet, place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place.
  6. Contact Experian or one of the other two credit report companies. Ask them to put a statement on your credit report that says, "Do not issue credit to anyone without contacting me personally". You will need to supply a list of items to get this service including a phone bill with your name, address and phone number on it and a copy of your driver's license and a copy of your Social Security Card.
  7. Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet, unless you initiate the contact or are sure you know with whom you are dealing. Identity thieves are clever. They have pose as bank representatives, 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. Before you share any personal information, confirm you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Check an organization's website by typing its URL in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting it. Many companies post fraud alerts when their name is used improperly. Alternatively, call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book.
  8. Do not carry your Social Security number card; leave it in a secure place. Give your Social Security number only when necessary, and ask to use other types of identifiers. If your state uses your Social Security number as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number. This applies if your health insurance company uses your Social Security number as your policy number.
  9. Pay cash whenever possible. Never give your credit card number to anyone over the phone, if you do pay with credit card, mark out your card number on the receipt that contains your name, card, card number and signature on it — it is too easy for a thief to take advantage of it if they get a hold of it. SHRED everything that contains personal information.
  10. Consider your checks. The next time you order checks, have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, the person will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks. Put your work phone number on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a Post Office Box use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a P.O. Box, use your work address. Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks. You can write it in if necessary. If you have it printed, anyone can get it. When ordering new checks, pick them up from the bank instead of having them mailed to your home mailbox.
  11. Opt out of pre-screening of your credit reports. The number to call is 1.888.567.8688 (1.888.5OPTOUT). It requires one single call for all three credit bureaus. This will stop the arrival of pre-approved credit card offers in your mailbox. Those pre-approved offers are dangerous. It is easy for someone to steal your mail or simply submit a change of address to divert your pre-approved offers to a mailbox accessible by a thief.
  12. Be cautious when responding to promotions. Identity thieves may create phony promotional offers to get you to give them your personal information.
  13. Be on guard in your home. Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.
  14. Treat your mail carefully. Deposit your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you are planning to be away from home and cannot pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1.800.275.8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
  15. Treat your trash carefully. To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
  16. Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businisses, doctor's offices, or other institutions that collect your personally identifying information. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that they handle it in a secure manner. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well. Find out if they share your information with anyone else. If so, ask how they will keep your information confidential.
  17. More organizations are offering consumers choices about how their personal information is used. For example, many let you "opt out" of having your information shared with others or used for marketing purposes.
  18. Some companies offer insurance or similar products that claim to provide protection against the costs associated with resolving an identity theft case. Be aware that most creditors will only deal with you to resolve problems, so the insurance company in most cases will not be able to reduce that burden. As with any product or service, make sure you understand what you are getting before you buy. If you decide to buy an identity theft insurance product, check out the company with your local Better Business Bureau, consumer protection agency and state Attorney General to see if they have any complaints on file.
  19. Finally, below are some helpful points related to your computer:
    • Update virus protection software regularly. Install patches for your operating system and other software programs to protect against intrusions and infections that can lead to the compromise of your computer files or passwords. Set virus protection software to update automatically each week. The Windows operating system can be set to automatically check for patches and download them to your computer.
    • Do not open files or click on hyperlinks sent to you by strangers or download programs from people you do not know. Be careful about using file-sharing programs. Opening a file could expose your system to a computer virus or a program known as "spyware," which could capture your passwords or any other information as you type it into your keyboard.
    • Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed Internet connection like cable, DSL or T-1 that leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. The firewall program will allow you to stop uninvited access to your computer. Without it, hackers can take over your computer, access the personal information stored on it, or use it to commit other crimes.
    • Use a secure browser — software that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the Internet — to guard your online transactions. Be sure your browser has the most up-to-date encryption capabilities by using the latest version available from the manufacturer. You also can download some browsers at no cost over the Internet. When submitting information, look for the "lock" icon on the browser's status bar to be sure your information is secure during transmission.
    • Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. If you do, use a strong password with a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. A good way to create a strong password is to think of a memorable phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password, converting some letters into numbers that resemble letters. For example, "I love Felix; he's a good cat," would become 1LFHA6c. Do not use an automatic log in feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you are finished. In the event that someone steals your laptop, it is harder for the thief to access your personal information.
    • Before you dispose of a computer, delete all the personal information it stored. Deleting files using the keyboard or mouse commands or reformatting your hard drive may not be enough because the files may stay on the computer's hard drive, where a thief can easily retrieve them. Use a "wipe" utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
    • Look for website privacy policies. They should answer questions about maintaining accuracy, access, security, and control of personal information collected by the site. They should also state how they will use the information, and whether they provide it to third parties. If you do not see a privacy policy or if you cannot understand it, take your business elsewhere.

These helpful tips are provided by Digital Defense, Inc., a computer security company working with your bank as a responsible member of the community to help insure the privacy and security of our nation's financial information.