Personal Resource Center
- Tax ID theft – Using another person's Social Security number to file a phony tax return and steal the refund
- Medical ID theft – Using someone else's personal information to obtain medical services or submit fraudulent bills to a health insurance company
- Child ID theft3 – Stealing the identities of minors (who may not catch up to the deception until they become adults) and using their Social Security number to open bank or credit card accounts or apply for a loan, government benefits, rent, or utilities
- Senior ID theft – Using a senior citizen's personal information to fraudulently access their financial assets or benefits (a crime usually committed by medical and long-term care services employees or caregivers who have access to a victim's personal information)
- Social ID theft – Setting up a bogus social media account with another person's name, photo, and personal data
The best defense against identity theft is to be on alert for warning signs, use available technical safeguards, and react promptly to any potential breach of your personal data. USA.gov offers several guidelines.2
1. Review your credit reports at least once a year.
You can get a free copy of your credit report once each year from the three national credit-reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Be sure to check the reports for errors, especially any accounts listed that you didn't open yourself. You can request your free credit reports through this central website.
2. Use strong, complex passwords.
It's especially important to use strong passwords for sensitive information, such as your bank, credit card, shopping and other financial accounts. Enable the security features on any mobile devices on which you have any banking apps.
3. Keep important documents in a safe.
Instead of carrying your Social Security card in your wallet, lock it away in a safe, along with your passport. Keep copies of your driver's license and credit cards in a secure place so that if the original items are stolen, you can quickly get them cancelled and replaced.
4. Freeze your credit reports.
If you learn about a data breach or other event that may have exposed your personal information to potential theft, one option for stemming the damage is contacting the three main credit bureaus to freeze your credit reports, notes the Better Business Bureau.4 This prevents any fake "you" from applying for new credit in your name. If you want to apply for credit later, you will need to temporarily “thaw" the reports so lenders can access them. Credit freezes and thaws are usually free for victims of identity theft. The Better Business Bureau notes that if you're taking this step as a precautionary measure, you'll pay a $3 to $10 fee in most states.
5. Watch out for mobile accounts.
Even the armor of a credit freeze can have chinks, as cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs points out.5 For instance, many identity thieves have managed to open mobile phone accounts in the names of people who had frozen their credit reports. That's because, instead of using Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion to vet customers, some mobile companies check applicants' credit through the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE).
A good defense
The long list of things you must do to protect yourself against identity theft shows that a good defense requires significant effort. Each of these steps, though, will make the identity thief's attempt that much more difficult.
Get into the habit of blocking identity thieves wherever you can, and your financial security will be that much stronger.
If you believe you've been the victim of identity theft, follow these steps from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.7