Minimizing the Possibility of Identity Theft

The primary responsibility for protecting your identity lies with YOU. Identity theft protection services or subscriptions are generally not worth the expense. You can usually protect yourself just as well. You may not be able to completely prevent your identity being stolen, but there is much you can do to minimize it. Here are some links to detailed information on this page:


  • Be stingy with information.
    • Don't divulge personal identifying information (e.g., account number, Social Security number, license number), especially over the telephone, unless you are sure you're dealing directly with the correct company or a fully authorized representative.
    • Talk with a supervisor if you want verification.
    • Ask for, and make a record of, the name and contact information of the person you speak with before proceeding.
    • Ask what your information will be used for.
    • Ask about the company's privacy policy. Ask specifically if they share your information with other companies.
    • Ask if you can "opt-out" of having your information shared with other companies.
  • Guard your Social Security number (SSN).
    • Do not put this on any form unless there is a proven requirement for it to be there. Section 7 of the Privacy Act provides that any agency requesting your SSN to inform you whether that disclosure is mandatory or voluntary, by what statutory authority your SSN is solicited, and how it will be used.
    • If a business is using your SSN as part of your account number or identification number, ask them to allow you to use an alternate identification.
    • Never have your SSN or license number printed on checks.
    • Don't carry your Social Security card with you.
    • Don't use your SSN as your driver's license number or other form of identification.
    • See Social Security NumberThis link will open in a new window (Electronic Privacy Information Center) for more details.
  • Know privacy policies.
    Before you set up an account with a business (online or elsewhere), read and understand its privacy policy. If you do not understand it, seek clarification. If it is not acceptable to you, reconsider setting up the account. Ask if they share your information with other companies and find out if you can "opt-out."
  • Carry only what you need.
    • Don't carry infrequently used or out-of-date cards or licenses.
    • Don't carry a checkbook.
    • Pay by cash or credit card.
    • Remove unnecessary personal information from your vehicle.
    • Know how to contact the issuing companies if your cards are lost or stolen.
    • Lock up the information you don't carry with you.
    • Make and keep in a safe place:
      • an up-to-date inventory of the cards you carry
      • contact information for the issuing companies of your cards
      • photocopies of both sides of each item of personal information in your wallet
  • Protect your cards and passwords.
    • Do not sign the back of credit, ATM or debit cards. Instead, write "Ask for picture ID" in the space where you would normally sign.
    • If your card is lost or stolen, immediately contact both the issuing company and the three credit reporting bureaus to have a "Fraud Alert" placed in your file. Generally, you have only 60 days to dispute any charges.
    • Make sure no one is looking over your shoulder when you use an ATM machine.
  • Monitor your account activity.
    • Destroy all credit card receipts you no longer need and keep the others locked up.
    • If credit card receipts have your entire account number printed on them, ask the company to print only the last few digits instead.
    • Cancel your paper bills and pay them online through a secure Web site.
    • Monitor account balances and activity at least weekly online (monthly if you have paper bills).
    • Keep a calendar of when each of your paper bills normally arrives and contact the company if one is late or missing.
    • Each month, read and verify every line item on all invoices, bills, and statements. If there are charges that you cannot verify, immediately contact the company for clarification.
    • If you find erroneous charges, file a formal dispute as soon as possible, within 60 days of the transaction. You may also need to notify the three credit reporting bureaus and possibly file a police report.
  • Secure your mail.
    • Use a locked or secured mail box, commercial box, post office box, or mail room service at your office for business transactions.
    • If you think someone else has been using your mailing address, check with the post office for unauthorized change-of-address requests.
    • Keep pre-approvals from credit card companies out of your mailbox by removing your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus. To do this,
  • Tighten up your banking activities.
    • If possible, check your statements online instead of having paper copies mailed to you.
    • Monitor your balances and activity electronically (at least once per week). Be sure you are using a "secure" site.
    • If you do not have access to online accounts, review paper bank statements monthly for missing statements.
    • Pick up new checks at the bank. Do not have them mailed to you.
    • Do not have your SSN, license number, or membership numbers printed on checks.
    • Have your checks imprinted with only your initials and last name instead of your first and last names.
    • Use your work telephone number, address, or U. S. Post Office box rather than your corresponding home phone number and address.
    • When paying a bill by check, include only the last few digits of your account number instead of the full number.
    • Consider using traveler's checks instead of personal checks.
    • Use email-based account “alerts” to monitor transfers, payments, low balances, and withdrawals.
  • Be especially careful online.
    • Use only secure sites, which are indicated by an address that begins with https://. Be aware that fraudulent sites can also have this designation.
    • Look for the closed lock icon in the browser window.
    • Update your antivirusThis link will open in a new window, antispyware, and other filters as often as new definitions become available. This will help reduce the chance that information-stealing crimeware will be installed on your computer.
    • Always use a firewall. (What is a firewall?)
    • Don't install untrusted programs.
    • Be cautious about opening attachments or accepting cookies.
    • Be very wary of solicitations from untrusted sources, e.g., charities, job offers, product specials.
    • Use only trusted methods of payment, e.g., credit card, PayPal.
    • Don't respond to requests for updating your account information without verifying the source of the request.
    • Don't click on links inside emails purporting to come from a business with whom you have an account. Instead, initiate contact with the business the way you usually do and make sure that you have not been directed to a fake site posing as the business. Furnish information to the business only in ways you know are secure.
    • Don't write down your user IDs, passwords, or PIN numbers.
    • Change your passwords often. Use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and acceptable symbols, if any.
    • Always log off when you finish using public Internet access devices.
    • For more on Internet safety, see About.Com: Family ComputingThis link will open in a new window.
  • Use a shredder to destroy unneeded documents.
    • Unwanted pre-approvals for credit cards in your name
    • Papers containing personal or financial information or account numbers
    • Unneeded charge receipts
    • Copies of credit applications
    • Outdated insurance forms
    • Old bank statements and checks
    • Expired credit cards
    • Medical and insurance records that are no longer needed
  • Protect stored and transmitted electronic information.
    • Use passwords for controlling access.
    • Use encryption for transmitting sensitive information.
    • Control access to all critical information such as operating systems components, applications programs, user profiles, business transactions, accounting files, and business or personal identifying information.
    • Make backups on a regular basis.
    • Keep archived copies in a secure location.
    • Don't store locally any more information than you need.
  • Monitor your credit reports.
    • Check these at least once a year.  You are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). You may prefer to stagger these and get one every four months rather than all three at once.
      NOTE: Your annual credit report is free, but there is a fee for your credit score. For information on the calculation of scores, see Credit Score - United StatesThis link will open in a new window (Wikipedia).
    • North Carolina residents can order their free credit reports online at AnnualCreditReport.comThis link will open in a new window, the central site set up by the three credit reporting bureaus. To be certain that you are contacting the authentic organization and not a fradulent one, You may prefer to
      • Call the central phone number, (877)322-8228
      • Order from the central mailing address:
        Annual Credit Report Request Service
        P.O. Box 105281
        Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
    • When you order, ask that only the last four digits of your Social Security number be printed on your reports.
    • You do not have to provide an email address in order to get your free reports.
    • Make sure to have the reports sent only to a secure mailing address.
    • You can place a security freeze on your credit reports. See:
      North Carolina Credit Freeze InstructionsThis link will open in a new window
    • Review your reports very carefully, making sure they are accurate and include only those activities that you have authorized.
    • If you find any erroneous entries, immediately contact the three credit reporting bureaus and file a fraud report. If necessary, file a police report.
    • For more information, see these sites:
      Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
      Fair Credit Reporting ActThis link will open in a new window
  • Be extra cautious when traveling.
    • Keep important papers in a safe, either one in the room or at the front desk.
    • Have photocopies of your passport and all credit cards and account numbers as well as the telephone numbers of the issuing organizations.
    • Keep these copies separate from the documents themselves.
  • Be wary of promotional scams.
    Thieves use promotional offers (e.g., mail, online, telephone, in person) to try to get you to divulge personal information.
  • Opt out.
    • To remove your name from lists that four of the consumer reporting firms (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, TransUnion) sell to credit card companies, call 1-888-567-8688 (1-888-5OPTOUT) or fill out the form at their Web site,  OptOutPrescreen.comThis link will open in a new window. You can choose whether removal will last for 5 years or permanently.
    • If you receive an unsolicited email that asks you to click on a link or mark a checkbox in order to stop receiving  future messages, don't respond. Otherwise, you will get even more messages.
  • Use a military freeze when you are deployed.
    • If you are in the military, there is an extra precaution that you can take. Before you go overseas or to a location where you are not likely apply for credit or manage your financial accounts, add a “Soldier Freeze Military Alert" to all your credit files (e.g., credit reporting bureaus, banks, credit card companies, mortgage lenders). This will help keep you from falling victim to identity theft while you are deployed.
    • These alerts are good for only one year. If your deployment lasts longer, you can place another alert in your files.
  • Understand your legal rights, both federal and state. Assistance for victims from local, state, or federal agencies or businesses is still minimal, but many changes are currently in the works.
  • Find out your responsibilities, liabilities and reporting requirements for erroneous or fraudulent transactions on your accounts, especially credit cards.

Go to Identity Theft main page.

Go to Safe Computing @ NC State.