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How can your identity be stolen? When an identity thief appropriates vital information like your name, birth date, Social Security number, or credit card number without your knowledge. Financial institutions employ a variety of technologies and practices to guard against identity theft; however, consumers should be aware of the many steps they can take to safeguard their personal information.

The tips below were adapted from the BITS white paper Financial Identity Theft: Prevention and Consumer Assistance, available for download under Publications.

Social Security Cards and Numbers

  • Do not carry your Social Security card.
  • Remove your Social Security number from your driver's license and bank checks.
  • Provide your Social Security number only when necessary - for example, on tax forms and employment records, or for banking, stock and property transactions.
  • Do not give out your Social Security number without questioning how it will be used. (Be aware that if you refuse to give your Social Security number to a business, that business can refuse service if it feels the information is necessary.)
  • Use a unique number as an account identifier instead of a Social Security number. When creating passwords and PINs, do not use a number that could be easily discovered by a thief, like part of your Social Security number, birth date, middle name, spouse's name, child's name, pet's name, mother's maiden name, address, or consecutive numbers.
  • Check your Social Security earnings and benefits statement each year to ensure someone else is not using your Social Security number. (This statement may be ordered from the Social Security Administration.)
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Credit Cards
  • Do not carry more than two credit cards. When carrying cards, take precautions to prevent their loss.
  • Always take credit card, debit card, and ATM receipts. Tear them up or shred them when no longer needed.
  • Tear up or shred unused pre-approved credit card solicitations and convenience checks.
  • Never provide credit card numbers over the telephone unless you placed the call and have a trusted relationship with the other party.
  • Cancel unused credit cards.
  • Create a list of credit cards and bank accounts. For each, include the account number, expiration date, credit limit, and telephone numbers for customer service and fraud departments. Keep this list in a safe place (not in a wallet or purse) so each creditor can be contacted quickly if cards are lost or stolen.
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Internet
  • When making online purchases, be sure you know the entity or person to whom you are giving your personal information. To confirm the legitimacy of a site, click on the solid lock or key symbol on your browser window. The symbol provides information about the merchant from the server certificate. A cloned site will not have a certificate. If a certificate name does not match the site, do not use it.
  • Only do business with Internet companies that use secure technology to capture private information like account or credit card numbers, or place orders by telephone or mail. The key symbol on your browser status bar indicates whether or not a page is secure.
  • Check merchant privacy policies and only shop with those whose published privacy policies are acceptable to you.
  • Ensure your computer(s) are equipped with antivirus protection and firewalls to help keep trespassers out. Always maintain backup of your original data.
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Mail
  • Do not leave bill payments in your mailbox. Install a lock on your mailbox if mail theft has occurred in your area.
  • Immediately review credit card and utility statements, including cell phone bills, for unauthorized use. If you suspect your account has been used fraudulently, contact the provider's customer service and fraud departments.
  • Monitor your bank accounts and monthly statements thoroughly, ensuring that all the activity is accurate. If your account statements are late, immediately contact your bank to find out when they were mailed.
  • If credit card statements or new or renewed credit cards are not received in a timely manner:
    • Call the creditor to see if a change-of-address request has been filed, or if additional or replacement cards have been requested. If either has happened, instruct the creditor not to honor the request.
    • Contact the post office to see if a change-of-address request has been filed. If so, immediately notify your local postal inspector.
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Miscellaneous
  • No matter how good a reason a person might have for needing your information, do not give it away. (Often identities are stolen by skilled "social engineers" who have their stories down, know to what most people will respond, and understand that people are often willing to provide information to others if they perceive that it is needed or that they will benefit.)
  • Keep your birth certificate and passport in a safe place.
  • Always protect your account information. Memorize passwords and PINs - never keep them in a wallet, purse, or Rolodex. Never write a Social Security or credit card number on a check.
  • Shield the keypad when entering a PIN at an ATM, store, or telephone.
  • Consider having your name removed from marketing lists by the following methods:
    • Individuals who would like to have their name and address removed from mailing lists obtained from the main consumer credit reporting agencies should call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).
    • Request that credit card issuers not disclose to marketers any information based on the purchases you make.
    • The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) maintains lists of people who do not want to receive mail and telephone solicitations from national marketers. Request that your name be added to the DMA's Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service name-removal lists. For more information go to http://www.dmaconsumers.org/
      offmailinglist.html
  • Order a credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Check the reports for accuracy and indications of fraud, such as new accounts, unauthorized credit applications or inquiries, and any unrecognized charges, defaults or delinquencies. Also check the accuracy of your name, address, Social Security number, and other identifying information.

For more information, visit the Identity Theft Assistance Center site: http://www.identitytheftassistance.org.

Information is also available from the Federal Trade Commission http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/ and the Department of Justice http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html. A helpful booklet on identity theft and links to other resources are available at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston http://www.bos.frb.org/consumer/identity/index.htm website.

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