Identity Theft

Shredded Papers
How do I prevent and detect identity theft, and what should I do if someone steals my identity?


Key Points

  • Your personal information is valuable, so you should do everything you can to protect it.  Shred documents containing personal information instead of throwing them away, be cautious of what you post online, and keep track of your credit history and bank statements, to start.
  • Take special care to implement digital safety measures, such as creating secure passwords and using adequate virus protection.
  • Learn which documents you should preserve and which documents you should dispose.


Identity Theft

Identity theft is the criminal practice of someone using your information for personal gain, usually monetarily. According to the Bank of America, oftentimes thieves use your information to apply for loans and credit lines, file for tax returns, spend your money, apply for jobs, and forge checks.


What should you do and look for?

  • Shred, shred, shredSome identity thieves dumpster dive as a means of obtaining carelessly tossed documents. Appropriately disposing of paperwork that carries any of your personal information is the easiest way to avoid this manner of theft.
  • Be cautious of what you post online. Don’t put your phone number, email, any ID numbers or other similar information out in the open.
  • Check your credit. Receiving your free credit reports each year is an easy way to spot if someone has tampered with your accounts. You are entitled to a free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus by visiting
  • Check your bank accounts frequently. The same goes for checking your bank accounts because spotting unknown charges is stand-out evidence of identity theft.
  • Don’t let pre-approved credit cards get in the wrong hands. Pre-approved credit cards can be stolen from your mailbox and used without you knowing. If you wish to have your name removed from pre-approved lists, you can do so by visiting
  • Keep information locked away. Record keeping is a first step in keeping you safe. Keep important documents in a safe place, even within your own home.
  • Be wary of who you give your information to. Fraudsters sometimes act as though they work for your bank or other places and need certain information from you like your birth date, social security number, birth certificate, etc.
  • Keep passwords, PINs and other important numbers in safe places. Don’t freely give out this information. It is wise to write down all your login information and store it in a safe place where no one else can get to it.
  • Don’t leave information vulnerable through online job applications. Applying for jobs online can be a risky business, especially if you are looking at jobs posted via online classifieds. Ensure the places you apply to are legitimate, and if you go through a job board, make sure it is well-known and trustworthy.
  • Don’t have blank checks delivered to you. A classic form of identity theft is stealing blank checks from people’s mailboxes or doorsteps. Instead of having checks sent to your home, arrange to pick them up at your post office.
  • Practice mailbox security. If you are going out of town, have your local post office put a hold on your mail delivery until you return home. Also, installing a mailbox with a lock is another great option.


Digital Safety

  • Install virus protection, spyware blocking and firewall software. Use encryption when sending sensitive information so it is scrambled and can’t be read by hackers.
  • Pick unique passwords with both capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Change them up a few times a year, and don’t use the same passwords for multiple sites. Be sure to logout, and don’t have websites set with automatic logins.
  • Before you get rid of a hard drive or any other storage devices, clear all the information on them. The same goes for old cellphones.
  • Improve your security questions. Many sites have you select and answer security questions in case you forget your password. Choose harder questions or purposely give an incorrect answer.
  • Use one card for online transactions. Also, use your credit card over your debit card as credit card providers offer fraud protection and debit cards are attached directly to your checking account.
  • Use a reliable browser and select appropriate security levels for it.


What documents should I keep? offers great information about what kinds of financial and government documents you should hold onto and for how long. This includes everything from keeping tax documents for seven years (in case you are audited) to keeping warranties until they run up. As you begin organizing your documents, first carefully sort through what you no longer need and what you do need while consulting the lists on’s website.

What about short-term records?

Receipts and pay stubs are documents that ultimately help you keep up-to-date on your spending plan. Some people organize them into folders or envelopes. Other people just toss their receipts and instead check their online bank account to see that everything is square. Again, it depends on what is most comfortable and makes most sense for you. Learn more about tracking your income and spending by clicking here.