Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

September 24, 2013

Identity theft is the nation’s fastest growing white collar crime.  “Identity theft” refers to crimes in which someone wrongfully obtains and fraudulently uses a person’s personal identifying information such as name, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number and financial identity – credit card or bank account.  Your personal data can be used if it falls into the wrong hands, allowing criminals to profit at your loss.  It is important to take steps to minimize your risk of experiencing identity theft.

Try these low cost measures to protect yourself against identity theft and fraud:

  1. Protect your online information.  Clear your login and passwords (don’t save them, even on your personal computer) and make sure they are not written down in an easy accessible place (i.e. on a sticky note on your keyboard).   Use a credit card for online purchases which has better guarantees under federal regulation than a debit card.  Be alert for phishing scams.  Don’t click on a link from an unknown email sender.  If you have used a shared computer, clear all the cookies when you are finished and then clear your browser history. 
  2. Monitor your bank account and credit card statements on a regular basis.  If you use your debit card for all your purchases, be sure you are reviewing the details on a weekly basis at the minimum.  Ensure that there are no charges that you did not authorize on your credit card statement(s).
  3. Don’t ‘overshare’ on social networks.  Set your privacy settings at the highest level.  Do not share information that can be used as identifying or to access personal accounts.  An example, do not provide your full date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, your father’s middle name, the name of your first pet, or other answers to the typical security type questions.
  4. A cross-cut shredder can be an inexpensive cost versus the consequence of someone gaining your information.  Shred documents that contain any personal identifying information or financial information.
  5. Monitor your credit report yearly (at a minimum).  According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are eligible for a yearly free copy of your credit report.  Request online at http://annualcreditreport.com.  
  6. Consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit and insurance by mail.  You can opt out for 5 years or permanently.  To opt out, call 1-888-567-8688 or go to optoutprescreen.com.  The phone number and website are operated by the 3 national credit reporting agencies. 

These are just a few tips to protect yourself.  For more information, visit the following resources:

http://www.brown.edu/Administration/Public_Safety/safety/identity.html

http://www.brown.edu/information-technology/information-security/guarding-your-privacy/identity-theft

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft