Identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number or other personal information to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund.1 These criminals can use your information to apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services under your name.2
Identity theft can occur online or through physical theft. Cyber thieves are accessing personal information through spying software, or spyware. Spyware can travel through downloads, pop-ups, email attachments, or malicious web pages.
Once on your computer, spyware programs can operate under your radar, collecting information about your internet browsing habits and keystrokes. It can detect when you are entering your credit or debit card information to make a purchase, and transmit that information to its creator.
Cyber thieves can use or sell your information to others to commit crimes. They can infect your machine further, send pop-ups, spam or other unwanted messages to the device. Some identity thieves might even attempt tax-related fraud.
Tips to prevent identity theft:
- Never share your Social Security Number (SSN) with anyone unless necessary. Memorize your SSN and never carry your card in your wallet.
- Secure your usernames/passwords, debit and credit card numbers, bank account information and driver’s license information. Many skilled identity thieves can use this personal information against you.
- Stay updated and alert about your credit card and bank account activity. If you see anything unusual, call your bank immediately.
- Know your payment due dates. If a bill doesn't show up when you expect it, look into it.
- Be mindful of where you browse and the steps you take to get there. Use trusted sources and reputable browsers, and send unwanted emails directly to a spam folder.
- Be careful when downloading files from the internet, as they could be corrupt with spyware.
- Purchase and install a trusted anti-virus software such as Norton Antivirus, McAfee, Sophos, and Trend Micro Antivirus are good options to use on your personal computer.
- Use public computers and wi-fi with extreme caution. Use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your computer code and protect your information.
- Store personal information in a safe place, like a safe deposit box at a bank, or a fireproof box.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired credit cards in order to prevent dumpster divers from accessing your personal information.
- Review your credit report once a year to check that no new accounts were opened without your permission.
What to do if you think your identity has been stolen
- Call the companies where the fraud occurs.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report and get copies of your report.
- Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
- File a police report
Anyone can fall victim to this common fraud scam. Worried that your identity may have already been stolen? Visit IdentityTheft.gov, the federal government's one-stop resource to help you report and recover from identity theft.
1Identity Theft, Consumer Finance
2Identity Theft, USA.gov