There are many things that you can do to reduce the chances of becoming an identity theft victim by taking simple steps to safeguard your personal information. And by checking your credit reports, bills, and statements regularly you can detect identity theft quickly and minimize the harm it causes.
1. General Advice
See Consumer Federation of America’s Ten Easy Steps to Protect Your Personal Information and Detect Fraud for information about what you can do yourself to reduce the chances of becoming an identity theft victim. If you are thinking about enrolling in an identity theft service, read Nine Things to Check When Shopping for Identity Theft Services. CFA’s Slam the Door on Phishing Scams tips and video tell you how to avoid being tricked into providing your personal information to fraudsters. CFA also provides advice about how to Avoid ID Theft and Fraud in the New Healthcare Marketplace. Watch CFA’s Get Smart video and read the tips to learn how to protect yourself and the people you care about from ID theft and fraud when you use your smartphone, laptop, notebook or other computing device.
Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number from the Social Security Administration provides advice about how to keep this important personal information safe.
Go to the U.S. Government Online Privacy and Security Portal, OnGuard Online, for comprehensive information about keeping your personal information safe when you use the Internet.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides advice about Medical ID Theft/Fraud Information.
Identity theft can happen in many ways, including mail theft. Check out the U.S. Postal Inspection Service tips and educational materials about Identity Theft.
2. Free Annual Credit Reports
The Federal Trade Commission wants you to know about Your Access to Free Credit Reports. This information is available in English and in Spanish.
In addition to your right to free credit reports if you are an identity theft victim and in some other specific situations, you can request free reports from each of the major credit bureaus once every 12 months to help you monitor the accuracy of your information and detect fraud.
3. Security Freezes
A security freeze “locks” your credit report so no one can get access to it until you lift the freeze. Be aware that security freezes can help block certain types of credit-related identity theft but they don’t provide blanket protection from one’s stolen information being used. Most states have security freeze laws (there is no federal security freeze law), which vary in terms of who can request a freeze (only victims or anyone) and the amount that can be charged, if anything, for placing and lifting freezes. Even if your state does not have a security freeze law or only provides for freezes for identity theft victims, you can request a freeze from each of the credit bureaus under a voluntary program for a small fee. The process and time it takes to set and lift freezes varies with each credit bureau.
A report from U.S. PIRG explains why placing a security freeze on your credit reports is the only way to prevent new account fraud and provides instructions for how to do it. The organization also provides tips on how to avoid ID theft.