Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

Time To Read 3 MIN READ

Date: September 20, 2016

If you’ve ever been a victim of identity theft or know someone who has been, then you know that it may lead to a great deal of personal and financial stress. Identity theft most commonly occurs when a person takes your personal information and uses it in one or more transactions in order to benefit financially. Though this type of theft is pretty common in the modern world, you can help protect yourself by following these tips.


The Many Faces of Identity Theft

Identity theft involves stolen personal information, and the theft itself can take many forms. Thieves "shoulder surf" at bank ATMs – standing behind you to obtain your PIN – then take money from your account after you walk away. They steal your credit card information and use your card numbers to buy things. They obtain your Social Security number and use it to file an early tax return to snag your refund.

Once identity thieves have your personal info, they also can use it to obtain loans and credit cards, or even to get health care in your name.


Keep Your Social Security Number Secret

Your Social Security number is the single most important number that is linked to your identity, and thieves know this. When someone obtains your name, date of birth and Social Security number, they can file a tax return for the refund, obtain a loan or even get a job in your name.

The top tip for avoiding identity theft is to keep this critical number a secret. Don't carry your card or any other document with the SSN on it. Don't give your SSN out unless you know who is asking and only when it is absolutely essential to do so.


Mum's the Word

Make it a habit never to give out personal information in response to unsolicited requests. That means when someone calls and says he's from the IRS or your bank and asks you to confirm your address, date of birth, bank account numbers or Social Security number, just say no.

Financial institutions and taxing authorities never call you out of the blue to seek personal information, nor do they ask for it by email. If the caller makes threats about deportation or arrest, it's certain that person doesn't work for the IRS or your bank.


Guard Your Personal and Financial Information

One place thieves often go to get your personal information is your mailbox to steal credit card and bank statements or credit card offers. They also lift financial letters, statements, bills or receipts from your garbage can after you've tossed them.

Stop these thefts by installing a locked mailbox and shredding all personal mail before you dispose of it. In your home, store personal information in a safe and install firewalls and virus detection software on your computers. Create unique, complex passwords thieves won't be likely to guess and change them regularly. And, remember to review your free credit report every year to look for loans, credit cards or accounts you don't recognize.