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Tips for Protecting Yourself against Identity Theft

​Keep your important papers secure!

  • Lock them up. Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home, and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work. Keep your information secure from roommates or workers who come into your home.
  • Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security and Medicare cards at home or in a secure place.
  • Pick up your new checks at the bank. When you order new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home, unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock.
  • Be careful with your mail. Take outgoing mail to the post office collection boxes, or to the post office. Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mail box. If you will be away from home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail:
    • Go to your local Post Office
    • Visit, or
    • Call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777
  • Shred sensitive documents. Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired credit cards, and similar documents before you put them in the trash.
  • Consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit and Insurance by mail. You can opt out for 5 years or permanently. To opt out for 5 years, call 1-888-567-8688 or go to The 3 nationwide credit reporting companies operate the phone number and website.
  • Protect your medical information. Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out. Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services or products.
  • Exercise your curiosity. Before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child’s school, or a doctor’s office, ask who will have access to your information, how it will be handled, and how it will be disposed of.

Secure your Social Security Number!

  • Protect it. Share your Social Security number, and your child’s, only when necessary. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification.
  • If someone asks you to share your Social Security number or your child’s, ask:
    • Why they need it
    • How it will be used
    • How they will protect it
    • What happens if you don’t share the number. 
  • Sometimes you must share your number. Your employer and financial institutions need your Social Security number for wage and tax reporting purposes. A business may ask for your Social Security number so they can check your credit when you apply for a loan, rent an apartment, or sign up for utility service.

Be alert to impersonators online!

  • Be sure you know who is getting your personal or financial information online. If a company that claims to have an account with you sends email asking for personal information, don’t click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service. Or, call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.

Protect your computer and mobile device!

  • Use anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your preference to update these protections often. Protect against intrusions and infections that can compromise your computer files or passwords by installing security patches for your operating system and other software programs.
  • Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from someone you don’t know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that captures your passwords or other information you type.

Safely dispose of personal information!

  • Before you dispose of a computer:  
    • Get rid of all the personal information it stores.
    • Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
  • Before you dispose of a mobile device:
    • Check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete information permanently, and how to save or transfer information to a new device.
    • Remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card from a mobile device.
    • Remove the phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organized folders, web search history, and photos.

Protect your data and personal information!

  • Encrypt your data. Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.
  • Be wise about Wi-Fi. Before you send personal information over your laptop or Smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected.
  • Keep passwords private. Use strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank, and other accounts. Be creative: think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, “I want to see the Pacific Ocean” could become 1W2CtPo.
  • Don’t over share on social networking sites. If you post too much information about yourself, an identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer ‘challenge’ questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information. Consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites.
  • Look up your laptop. Keep financial information on your laptop only when necessary. Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you’re finished. That way, if your laptop is stolen, it will be harder for a thief to get at your personal information.
  • Read privacy policies. Yes, they can be long and complex, but they tell you how the site maintains accuracy, access, security, and control of the personal information it collects; how it uses the information, and whether it provides information to third parties. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

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