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Identity Theft Awareness

Identity Theft: Then and Now

Watch a classic identity thief to see how this crime has evolved:

Identity theft has become one of the fastest-growing crimes in America today. Identity theft is the deliberate assumption of another individual's identity, usually to gain access to a person's finances or to frame that person for a crime.

Identity theft is primarily used to perform financial transactions using accounts in your name. These can be making purchases using a credit card number or taking out a loan for a car. Less commonly, it is used to obtain medical insurance, file fraudulent tax returns, impersonate another individual during an arrest, open phone or wireless services, or even attempt blackmail.

Personal identity information can be stolen by rummaging through rubbish for sensitive documents, infiltrating organizations that manage large amounts of personal information, and hacking into computer systems.

You can fight identity theft by taking the following precautions:

  • Never give out personal or financial information over the phone or in an email. Beware of "phishing" scams, where a pop-up message or email asks you for personal or financial information.
  • Always use strong passwords at least eight characters long that have numbers and special characters (like: $, %, &), and that do not contain a word found in the dictionary. Change your passwords frequently and never share them.
  • Use anti-spyware software daily. Spyware is software installed on your computer, often without your knowledge, that collects information about you.
  • Avoid using software downloaded from unknown websites or peer-to-peer file sharing services. Avoid software that claims to be game, a screensaver, collects information for "marketing purposes" or promises to "accelerate your internet connections." These are programs that can include spyware.
  • Shred credit card receipts, junk mail, and other such documents with sensitive personal or financial information. Never leave these types of documents exposed in a public space (such as an office desktop).
  • Never make personal information about yourself (like your birthdate, place of birth, family members' names) publicly available on social networking websites. This information can be easily found by search engines and used to help perpetrate identity theft against you.

For more information, and for guidance on what to do if you believe you are a victim of identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website on identity theft.

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