Identity theft happens when someone takes and uses your personal information without permission. Identity theft can damage your finances, credit history, and reputation. But how do thieves even get hold of your information? And what steps can you take to prevent them from doing so?
How Thieves & Scammers Get Your Information
Many thieves and scammers randomly generate email addresses or mobile numbers—that’s why you may have received fraudulent emails or texts that appear to be from banks you do not have an account with. They also:
- Hack computer systems then sell personal information.
- Steal information from trash or from a business.
- Trick you into revealing information.
- Take your wallet or purse.
- Pretend to offer a job, loan, or apartment to get your information.
- Purchase mailing lists.
- Obtain email addresses and mobile numbers online from web pages, chat rooms, online auctions and directories, or from illegitimate sources.
Preventing Identity Theft
There are many easy ways you can help keep your personal information from falling into the wrong hands:
- Carefully read and watch for mistakes on bank, credit, and account statements, as well as Explanations of Medical Benefits.
- Know your payment due dates. If a bill doesn't show up when you expect it, look into it.
- Respond quickly to IRS notices. Watch out for IRS notices about accounts in your minor child's name.
- Read the statements from your health insurance plan. Make sure the claims paid match the care you got.
- Shred any documents with personal and financial information.
- Review each of your three credit reports at least once a year. It's easy, and it's free. Learn how to order and review credit reports here.
- Beware of online impersonators. Learn how to spot scams and fraud here.
- Protect your computer with strong passwords, encryptions, firewalls, antivirus, and anti-spyware.
- Look out for calls from debt collectors about a debt that isn't yours.
For more tips on dealing with identity theft, visit ftc.gov/idtheft.