The concept of a stolen identity sounds a little far-fetched. To just read the words, one might imagine an impossible impostor situation, or perhaps the plot of a suspense film. But the reality is actually simpler—and scarier—than that. Thieves can assume your identity with just a tiny bit of key information, effectively “becoming” you online or on paper, and then engaging in a variety of unauthorized activity. Their actions can result in long-term problems, financial and otherwise.
There are ways to protect yourself from identity theft, however. Here are a few tips:
- Beware of suspicious emails—The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not initiate communication with taxpayers via e-mail. Do not believe any messages you receive from a source claiming to be the IRS, and never provide them with any information.
- Keep your vital documents secure—It is not a good idea to keep your Social Security card, passport, or other identifying materials in your wallet, pocket, purse, or luggage unless you have an immediate need for them. Carrying these items every day only increases their chances of being lost or stolen.
- Be creative—Your Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) should not contain any part of your Social Security Number (SSN), birth date, or any other identifying information. Also, commit your important passwords to memory.
- Keep mum—Never share your SNN or credit card information over the phone unless you initiated the phone call and know precisely with whom you are speaking. Be on guard about phone or mail solicitations disguised as prizes or promotions.
- Mind your trash—Shred all documents (especially pre-approved offers of credit) with identifying information on them. Never throw intact credit card receipts into a public trash container.
- Credit card conduct—Never loan out your credit card, and report lost or stolen cards immediately. Also, keep an eye out for fraudulent charges or withdrawals on your monthly statements and report them immediately. Order an annual credit report to ensure that all your information is correct. Always sign your credit cards.
Your personal information is directly related to your financial security. By simply applying these common sense practices to your everyday life, you can avoid countless hours of trouble. Your identity is yours, and yours alone. Be smart, and protect yourself.