Reducing Your Risk
Protect your Social Security number
Don't carry your Social Security card or number in your wallet. Never write your Social Security number on a check and only give out the number when absolutely necessary. If your health insurance uses your Social Security number, ask the company to give you an alternate number. Employers and financial institutions will need your Social Security number for wage and tax reporting, and other companies may need your number for doing credit checks when applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or signing up for utilities. However, be picky with whom you give this information.
Select intricate passwords
Place passwords on all of your financial accounts. Do not use information that is easily available like your birth date, your mother's maiden name, phone number, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Try to use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. If a business still asks for your mother's maiden name when you open an account, ask if you can use an alternate password instead. Memorize your passwords and don't record them on anything you carry in your wallet or purse.
Shred your mail and important documents
Use a micro-cut, cross-cut, or "confetti" shredder to dispose of bank statements, credit card bills, convenience checks, pre-approved credit offers, insurance statements, and other forms that might have personal information. Don't discard sensitive documents at work unless you can ensure that they will be shredded properly.
Guard your mail
Be sure to collect your mail as soon as possible. A locked mailbox or P.O. Box is the most secure receptacle. Do not place outbound mail in an unlocked mailbox. Deposit bills and personal information directly in a post office collection box or at the post office. If you will be unable to pick up your mail for an extended period, ask a neighbor to collect it or place a hold on your mail with the post office. To keep pre-approved credit offers from being sent to you, remove your name from the mail lists by visiting or by calling 1-888-5OPT-OUT. Use online bill pay to reduce the amount of personal mail going out and ask for online statements to reduce the amount of personal mail coming in.
Protect your internet
Protect your computer with a firewall and spyware detection and virus protection software. Update and run your protection software at least once a month. Do not open or click on hyperlinks that come from unknown sources. The internet gives you access to information, entertainment, financial offers, and more, but it can leave you vulnerable to online scammers and identity thieves. If a company sends an email asking you to provide sensitive information, do not use the links provided. Most legitimate companies do not request information in this manner. Contact the company to verify or visit their website directly.
Monitor your accounts
Monitor your bank and credit accounts to detect any sign of misuse as soon as it happens. The size of fraud loss is much lower for consumers that monitor their accounts regularly online. View checks online to ensure that transactions were legitimate. Review your credit card statements, bank statements, and cellular phone bills for unauthorized use.
Safeguard your wallet or purse
Protect your purse or wallet at all times. Avoid carrying any personal information that is not required to be on your person. When at work, make sure your purse or wallet is stored in a locked drawer or locker. Don't leave a purse unattended in a store or restaurant.
Store information in a secure location
Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, or in a safety deposit box. Keep a list, or make photocopies, of all credit and debit cards. Include account numbers, expiration dates, and customer service phone numbers. This allows you to have access to information needed should loss or fraud occur.
Using credit and debit cards
Always pay attention to people around you when entering your pin number. Make sure nobody is looking over your shoulder. Always keep your card in view. Pocket sized "skimming" devices can be used by the cashier, waiter, etc., to capture your credit card information. Never throw your receipt into a public trash receptacle. Take receipts home and shred them.
Review credit reports
Check your credit reports often. You are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. To receive your reports, go to Review your Social Security statement each year to verify that the income showing is the correct amount. You should receive these statements each year, three months before your birthday. Subscribe to an identity monitoring service to be alerted to changes in your credit file and attempts to access your identity data.