Protect Yourself

Tips to protect yourself and detect fraud

Identity theft can come from many sources – from anonymous cyber crime rings to someone you know who misuses your information. You are the best person to protect your personal information. Be stingy with it in the real world and online.

  • Keep sensitive information from prying eyes. âequest electronic statements, use direct deposit, don't put checks in an unlocked mailbox. At home or at work, keep all personal and financial records in a locked storage device or behind a password. When someone requests your Social Security Number, ask if you can provide alternate information
  • Monitor bank and credit card accounts at least weekly via online, mobile, ATM, or touch-tone banking.
  • Contact your financial services company at the first sign of fraud. âesearch shows you can minimize the damage of identity theft by acting quickly to resolve it. Most financial services companies offer zero-liability protection for debit and credit cards.
  • Monitor your credit and public information to spot unauthorized activity. Free credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus (staggered quarterly for year-round monitoring) are available yearly through or 877-322-8228. Optional fee-based services, such as more extensive monitoring of credit information, personal identity records, and Social Security numbers, provide convenience for those who don't want to personally monitor their information.
  • Sign up for security alerts to be sent to your mobile phone or email account so that you are notified of changes to your account or personal information. The most common method for fraudsters to take over a victim's account is by changing the physical address.
  • If you receive a letter notifying you that your private records were involved in a data breach, take the following steps:
    1. confirm the letter is legitimate,
    2. take advantage of any free protection services that are offered, and
    3. place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert requires lenders to make sure it is actually you applying for credit. Consumers who receive a data breach notification letter are more than four times as likely to become identity fraud victims versus those who don't, yet many who are alerted fail to take action.


Phishing is a scam that uses urgent messages, often about a security problem with one of your accounts, to trick you into surrendering personal information to a fraudster. There are many different types of phishing scams, the most common being the use of authentic looking emails asking for your PIN or account number, for example. These emails – often posing as a financial services company, online payment company, or government agency – will often send you to a fake “spoofed” website where you are asked to enter the information.

As public awareness of phishing grows, fraudsters are adapting their tactics to phone scams (“vishing”) and texting scams (“smishing”). Like any scams, phishing also exploits consumers fears in times of economic stress, like easy offers of pay day loans and mortgage relief.

Below are some tips to help you avoid getting caught in a phishing net:

  • Be suspicious of any email with urgent requests for personal financial information.
  • Don't use the links in an email, instant message, or chat to get to any web page if you suspect the message might not be authentic or you don't know the sender or user's handle.
  • Avoid filling out forms in email messages that ask for personal financial information. You should only communicate information such as credit card numbers or account information via a secure website or the telephone.
  • Always ensure that you're using a secure website when submitting credit card or other sensitive information via your Web browser.
  • Not all scam sites will try to show the "https://" and/or the security lock. Look at the address line, too.
  • Consider installing a Web browser tool bar to help protect you from known fraudulent websites.
  • Regularly log into your online accounts. Don't leave it for as long as a month before you check each account.
  • Regularly check your bank, credit and debit card statements to ensure that all transactions are legitimate.
  • Ensure that your browser is up to date and security patches applied.
  • Always report "phishing" or “spoofed” e-mails to the following the Anti-Phishing Working Group at; the Federal Trade Commission at; forward email to the "abuse" email address at the company that is being spoofed (e.g. ""); notify The Internet Crime Complaint Center of the FBI by filing a complaint on their website:

For more information about phishing, visit the Anti-phishing Working Group website.


If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Con artists use a variety of scams -involving work from home, dating, charity, auctions, lotteries, and many others - to separate you from your money. cam artists will take advantage of people during stressful situations, which is why we see an increase in mortgage scams during a housing crises or criminals posing as federal employees during national disasters.

  • Mortgage Scams
    There are different types of mortgage scams. A good rule of thumb is don't fall for promises, like "We'll save your credit"; "We'll buy your house 'as is'"; or "We'll get you a new mortgage with low monthly payments." For more information, read Be Your Best Advocate: Mortgage Fraud Prevention.
  • Dating Scam.
    The victim's online “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” sends the victim a check or money order with instructions to deposit it and wire a portion of the money back to the “friend.” The check or money order appears valid but is bogus.
  • Work from Home Scam.
    The victim answers an ad for a job that promises good money for work that can be done from home. The job involves depositing checks into the victim's bank account. The victim often is told to wire 90% of the check amount back to the “employer” and keep the remaining 10% for herself as “salary.”
  • Charity Scam.
    The victim -thinking he is helping people affected by a natural disaster or suffering from a disease -agrees to act as a middleman for donations. Like the work at home scam, the victim is asked to deposit the donation checks into personal accounts, keep a small percentage,and send the rest of the funds by Western Union or wire to the fraudster.In some cases, thedonation checks are bogus and, in other cases, the checks belong to other victims who believed they were helping a legitimate charity.

Visit Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness to learn how to spot these and other scams.

Social networks

Social networks like Facebook are a great way to share information that's important to you. Unfortunately, they are fertile ground for criminals looking for information that can be used to commit identity theft. A study by Consumer Reports found that 52 percent of social-network users post their full birth date, home addresses, vacation plans or other personal information that could increase their risk of becoming victims of identity theft or other computer crimes. Read these safety tips.

Identity Theft Protection Services

ID Theft Products

Many companies and organizations sell services that promise to “protect your identity.” Identity theft services may be able to help you detect identity theft quicker than you could yourself so that you can take action to prevent further damage.  But the level of service these companies offer vary from provider to provider, and the benefits and terms of service, are not always clear.

To help consumers make educated decisions when buying these services, ITAC joined the Consumer Federation of America and other consumer advocacy groups to develop Best Practices for Identity Theft Services. The guidelines are intended hold providers to standard of clear disclosure when marketing these services.

Visit for information about how to choose an identity theft service and other prevention tips.



Copyright © 2013    ITAC, the Identity Theft Assistance Center, is the national advocate for identity theft victims and a leading voice on identity policy. Millions of consumers have access to the ITAC victim assistance service through our members - the financial services companies who support ITAC and offer it as a free service for their customers. ITAC is dedicated to protecting all consumers through education, research and the criminal prosecution of identity crime.