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Identity theft is a real threat. Consumers need to take precautions to prevent identity theft and secure personal information. Due to recent data breaches, this topic has become top-of-mind for consumers.

Identity theft takes many forms. Some of the most common include:

  • Credit card fraud
  • False applications for new credit
  • Fraudulent withdrawals from a bank account
  • Fraudulent use of telephone calling cards
  • Fraudulent use of an IP address in order to engage in illegal acts online
  • Fraudulent use of medical care
  • Social security fraud (for tax and employment fraud)

10 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

  1. Safeguard your Social Security number.
    a.  Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Only give the number out when absolutely necessary.  Monitor your Social Security activity with a Social Security Earning and Benefits statement. (https://www.socialsecurity.gov/forms/ssa-7050.pdf)
  2. Use a shredder to destroy private records and statements.
    a.  Use a crosscut shredder. It is worth the extra cost.
  3. Monitor your credit report annually.
  4. Review your credit card statements carefully.
  5. Secure your mail.
    a.  When possible, convert bills to online bill pay and avoid using your mailbox with flag up to pay bills; take them to a post office.
  6. Don’t leave a paper trail. Never leave ATM, credit card, or gas station receipts behind.
  7. Keep duplicate copies of both sides of your credit and debit cards and personal information cards in a safe spot.
  8. Carry only the necessities in your wallet.
  9. Remove your name from marketing lists.
    a.  States have “Do Not Call” Lists that you can register for and solicitors cannot contact you. You can also register online with the Direct Marketing Association. (http://www.dmaconsumers.org/offmailinglist.html)
  10. Be more defensive with personal information.
    a.  Never give out credit card or personal information over the phone or email unless you initiate the conversation and trust the company.

If you know or suspect that you are the victim of identity theft, there are steps you should take immediately to stop the theft and minimize the damage.

5 Steps to Take Immediately If You Have Been a Victim of Identity Theft

  1. Put a security freeze on your credit report with all three credit reporting agencies: Experian,( https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html) Equifax, (https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp) and TransUnion. (https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp)
  2. Contact any institution directly affected. For example, if you know your credit card was stolen, report the theft to the credit card issuer. If your checkbook was stolen, contact your bank or credit union.
  3. Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to file an Identity Theft Affidavit and create an Identity Theft Report. You can file your report online, (https://www.identitytheft.gov/#what-to-do-right-away) by phone (toll-free): 1-877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338); TDD (toll-free): 1-866-653-4261, or by mail — 600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington DC 20580..
  4. File a police report. To complete the Identity Theft Report, (https://www.identitytheft.gov/#what-to-do-right-away) you’ll need to contact your local law enforcement office and report the theft. Be sure to get a copy of the police report and/or the report number. Both your police report and the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit combine to create your Identity Theft Report. Your Identity Theft Report will help you when working with the credit reporting agencies or any other companies the identity thief may have used to open accounts in your name.
  5. Protect your social security number. If your social security number was or may have been compromised, contact the Social Security Administration (https://www.ssa.gov/ ) (800-269-0271) and the Internal Revenue Service (www.irs.gov) (800-829-0433).
    a.  It’s important to talk to the SSA if you have reason to believe your social security number has been compromised, even if you don’t yet see any evidence of financial fraud. A thief could be planning to swipe your tax refund or to obtain employment in your name.

In addition to these five steps, if you have reason to believe the identity thief may have submitted a fraudulent change-of-address to the post office or has used the U.S. mail to commit the fraud against you, contact the Postal Inspection Service, (http://ehome.uspis.gov/mailtheft/idtheft.aspx) which is the law enforcement and security branch of the post office. Fill out the online form.

For more information about how to prevent or recover from identity theft, the U.S. Department of Justice (http://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/identity-theft/identity-theft-and-identity-fraud) and the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft) offer a wealth of information and will walk you through the steps.

This article is compiled from blog posts at: creditsesame.com and an article by Frank Abagnale for Bankrate.com.