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Proactive Steps to
Protect Your Identity

It’s important to protect your personal information, and to take certain steps quickly to minimize the potential damage from identity theft if your information is accidentally disclosed or deliberately stolen.

  1. Prevent Identity Theft
  2. Protect Your Information Online
    • Don’t send personal information in e-mail or instant messages (IM). It is too easy for someone to intercept and read your information. Remember, it is out of your control once you send it.
    • Limit the amount of personal information you post on the Web and restrict access to it. Facebook and Twitter are great for connecting with friends, but don’t post anything — like your birthday or full name — that could be used to steal your identity.
    • Unless you know and trust the sender, don’t open files, download programs or click links in e-mails or IM. Phishing scams often use these techniques to try to steal your identity.
    • Dedicate one credit card solely for online purchases. Monitor your statements for any suspicious activity.
    • Keep your Web browser updated to ensure you have the latest security features installed. Like any other software, Web browsers need to be kept up to date date to protect against security vulnerabilities. They are also equipped with encryption capabilities that help keep your data safe as it travels the Internet. Check the online help feature or get more information about security features on the manufacturer’s website.
    • Avoid storing sensitive information such as credit card numbers or your Social Security number on your computer. If your computer is compromised, you’ll be less exposed.
    • Before disposing of an old computer, use a utility program to “wipe” your hard drive. Deleting files isn’t enough to ensure all the sensitive information on your old hard drive stays safe. If you need help, there are services that will do this for you.
    • Download, install and update firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware security software regularly. This will help protect your computer from intruders looking for your personal information.
    • Be smart about your passwords. Use strong passwords that include a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t check the “Remember Me” box on a login screen. That allows the site to save your password. And remember to log off when you leave a secured site. This will prevent unauthorized users from getting into your accounts.
  3. Protect Your Personal Information
    • Shred all financial documents and credit applications to keep your personal information safe from dumpster divers.
    • Memorize your passwords, Social Security number and other account numbers. If you write them down, they can be seen or stolen.
    • Limit the number of credit cards or identification cards you carry. Never carry your Social Security card with you.
    • Pick up new checks from your bank. Checks are easily stolen if they are sent to your home mailbox.
    • Use secured mailboxes, such as those at a post office, when mailing checks or letters. Try to pick up your mail from your mailbox as soon as possible and if you are going to be away, arrange to have your mail picked up or set up a delivery hold with the U.S. Postal Service.

Sources: Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Education