Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America—the Federal Trade Commission estimates that nearly 9 million people become victims of identity thieves every year.
Having your personal identification stolen can cost you financially, tarnish your credit record and take months—if not years—to clear up.
There are several ways identity thieves gain access to your personal information:
- “Dumpster diving"—rummaging through your trash looking for personal information on discarded mail and old personal records
- Stealing mail from your mailbox
- “Phishing”—obtaining information over the internet through legitimate looking emails, websites and pop-up advertisements
- Pick-pocketing your wallet
- Obtaining your information from employees/insiders at banks, hospitals, schools and/or places of employment
You need to be vigilant about safeguarding your personal information. While you cannot completely prevent someone from stealing your personal information, there are ways to greatly reduce your chances of becoming a victim:
- Don’t give it out your social security number unless absolutely necessary and never print it on your checks. Don’t carry your social security card with you—keep it in a safe place.
- Empty your mailbox every day.
- Review credit card and telephone bills as soon as you receive them. Call immediately if you see discrepancies, unauthorized or unexplained charges.
- Never give out personal information, including credit card or bank account numbers over the phone, email or internet unless you initiated the contact with the company.
- Shred any documents you are discarding that contain any personal information.
- Don’t carry unnecessary credit cards or other personal documents (passport, birth certificate) with you unless absolutely necessary.
You should also monitor your credit reports. You are entitled to one free report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every year. For information on how to request credit reports go to www.annualcreditreport.com.
For more information on identity theft, visit my office website, www.statesattorney.org.
Consistently safeguarding your personal information can make an identity thief’s job more difficult, and keep your financial reputation in your own hands.
Cook County State’s Attorney