Identity Theft

Identity theft is a serious crime. It occurs when your personal information is stolen or used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. It can cost you time and money and destroy your credit.

To safeguard your personal information, you should

  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before discarding them.
  • Sign up for online statements when possible. Paper statements can be stolen from your mailbox.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card or write your Social Security number on a check.
  • Be very careful about giving out any personal information on the phone.
  • Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails.
  • Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your computers.
  • Don't use an obvious password such as your birthday or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • Inspect your credit report and financial/billing statements regularly. Look for new accounts you did not open or charges you did not make. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit reporting agencies each year. Contact the Annual Credit Report Request Service, a service created by the three companies, by visiting or calling 1-877-322-8228 to order your free credit report.

If you suspect you've been a victim of Identity theft, you should

  • Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports and review the reports carefully. A call to one of the three major credit reporting agencies is recommended
    Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
    Experian: 1-800-EXPERIAN (1-800-397-3742)
    TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
  • Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
  • File a police report.
  • Report the theft to law enforcement such as the Internet Crime Complaint Center at or the Federal Trade Commission at


What is 'Phishing'?

phishing ( pp. Phishing is a high-tech scam that uses spam or pop-up messages to deceive you into disclosing your credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords, or other sensitive information.

Tips to help you avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:

  • If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply. And don't click on the link in the message, either. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization mentioned in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company's correct Web address yourself. In any case, don't cut and paste the link from the message into your Internet browser - phishers can make links look like they go to one place, but that actually send you to a different site.
  • Use anti-virus software and a firewall, and keep them up to date. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge.

    Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Anti-virus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses as well as older ones; that can effectively reverse the damage; and that updates automatically.

    A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It's especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection. Operating systems (like Windows or Linux) or browsers (like Internet Explorer or Netscape) also may offer free software "patches" to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers could exploit.

  • Don't email personal or financial information. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization's website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a URL for a website that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for "secure"). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons.
  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to check for unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive regardless of who sent them. These files can contain viruses or other software that can weaken your computer's security.
  • Forward spam that is phishing for information to and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the phishing email. Most organizations have information on their websites about where to report problems.
  • If you believe you've been scammed, file your complaint at, and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft website at Victims of phishing can become victims of identity theft. While you can't entirely control whether you will become a victim of identity theft, you can take some steps to minimize your risk. If an identity thief is opening credit accounts in your name, these new accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. You may catch an incident early if you order a free copy of your credit report periodically from any of the three major credit bureaus. See for details on ordering a free annual credit report.

To learn more about the latest phishing scams visit

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