Identity theft is a scary concept, but what is it? Simply put, identity theft is the unauthorized use of another’s identity to commit crimes or for financial gain, like opening accounts, filing taxes or making purchases. Unfortunately, it can happen to anyone.
Consumers nationwide reported around 400,000 identity theft complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2016, making identity theft the third largest category of complaints.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk of identity theft. According to the FTC, it’s important to “shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer”.
Don’t own a shredder? Your Better Business Bureau (BBB) is here to help. Join us at Concord City Hall on April 22 from 10am–2pm for BBB serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California’s biannual “Secure Your ID Day”, a free shedding event. Bring up to five boxes of documents and watch Ripcord Digital, a BBB Accredited Business, shred them on-site. Learn more about the event here, and click here to learn what to bring.
To further protect yourself against identity theft, keep the following BBB tips in mind:
- Secure your information offline.
- Limit what you carry. When out and about, only take what you need – leave your Social Security card at home. Lock up financial documents and records in a safe in your home, and lock up your purse or wallet while at work.
- Keep an eye on your mail. Use a secure, locked mailbox if possible. If you don’t have a locked mailbox, take sensitive outgoing mail to the post office or to a post office box and pick up incoming mail as soon as possible. Only order new checks to your home if you have a secure mailbox.
- Don’t overshare. The FTC recommends that “before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child's school, or a doctor's office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing”. This is especially true for your Social Security Number (SSN). Ask if you can use a different kind of identification, although sometimes you will have to share your SSN. Also be careful sharing health plan information, and destroy the labels on prescriptions bottles before throwing them out.
- Stay safe in the digital world.
- Dispose of electronics carefully. Your computer, phone and tablet store immense amounts of personal information. Before disposing of or selling your computer, wipe the hard drive. For a mobile device you’ll need to check your owner’s manual, service provider’s website or manufacturer’s website to learn how to delete information permanently. Always remove the SIM card and delete your contacts, messages, photos, voicemails, folders and web search history.
- Be proactive about passwords and security settings. Use different, strong passwords for all of your accounts, including your devices. Change passwords frequently and use multi-factor identification if possible. Learn more about password safety at bbb.org/passwords. Set the privacy and security settings on web services, devices and apps you use – make sure you aren’t sharing more information than necessary.
- Be social media savvy. Keep your social media accounts as private as possible. Make sure you’re only “friends” with people you know and trust in real life. Be careful about what you share, especially personal information – identity thieves can piece your life together based on seemingly-innocuous posts and use the information to answer account security questions.
- Watch out for scams and dangerous links.
- Beware unsolicited contact. If someone reaches out to you out of the blue and your personal information is involved, be careful. This includes phishing emails, where a scammer might pretend to be your bank or email provider and ask you to “verify your account”. If you get an email like this, go directly to the business’ website and contact customer service through there.
- Watch where you click. Don’t open any links or attachments in unsolicited email. Avoid clickbait online as it might take you to suspicious websites that’ll download malware on your computer or try to get your personal information.
- Know who you’re taking to. The FTC recommends that you never “give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact” and know exactly who you’re dealing with.
If you’ve encountered a scammer, report it to BBB Scam Tracker here. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, find out about your options at identitytheft.gov. For more FTC tips, click here.