Identity theft occurs when someone gains unauthorized access to your personally identifying information – such as your name, Social Security number or bank account information – and uses it to commit fraud or other crimes. This could include applying for a credit card under your name and racking up charges, claiming your tax refund or even committing crimes using your name.
While identity thieves are becoming more sophisticated, there are some tried-and-true ways to steal someone’s personal information. Those methods include:
- Stealing mail: Criminals take mail from your mailbox and look for documents with personal information. They also may try to open a credit card in your name using pre-approved credit card offers.
- Phishing: Criminals trick you into sharing personal information by pretending to be someone else, such as your bank, and ask you to share personal information such as PINs and the answers to security questions.
- Skimming: Criminals manipulate credit card processing machines and ATMs by inserting a device that captures the account information of whoever uses it. They then use that information to make unauthorized purchases.
- Straightforward theft: Criminals steal purses, wallets or personnel records from companies to collect personal information.
- Address manipulation: Criminals divert your mail by changing addresses so they can access documents with personal information that are mailed to you.
The good news is there are ways to safeguard your personal information:
- Shred financial documents and other correspondence that may contain personal information. This prevents criminals from stealing the information from the trash.
- Never give personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call and are certain the phone number is legitimate.
- Put a lock on your mailbox to prevent your mail from being stolen.
- Check your credit report regularly to monitor for unauthorized accounts.
- Consider freezing your credit to prevent criminals from opening accounts in your name.
- Use credit cards instead of debit cards. If a criminal has your debit card information, they can quickly drain your bank accounts. While you likely will get the money back eventually, it can take time. If unauthorized purchases max out your credit cards, your money isn’t tied up.
- Review your accounts – such as bank accounts and credit cards – regularly to look for suspicious activity.
Watch for more information about identity theft in the coming weeks.