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