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The Common Risks of Identity Theft - Part 2

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This is the second of two articles related to how individuals may be impacted by identity theft. Part one defined identify theft and detailed how most people become victims of identity theft by leaving themselves vulnerable through everyday behavior because they do not see potential risk.

Ways to reduce the potential for identity theft to occur (i.e. prevention) are below.

Protect Social Security number, credit/debit card numbers, PINs, passwords, and other personal information

  • Never provide this information in response to an unsolicited/unwanted telephone call, fax, letter, or email, no matter how friendly or official the circumstances may appear.
  • Carry only what is absolutely needed in a purse or wallet, such as: checks or debit/ credit cards – other information such as your Social Security Card should be kept in a safe place.
  • Do not preprint Social Security number, telephone number, or driver’s license on personal check stock.

Be alert for people watching while financial transactions are conducted

  • Do not speak loudly in public places (like airports or restaurants) if reading credit/debit card numbers over the phone, and look to see if someone is peering over your shoulder before you conduct an ATM transaction.

Protect incoming and outgoing mail

  • Use a locked mailbox or other secure location (such as a post office box). If that’s not practical, then remove mail promptly after delivery.
  • Ask to have new check stock that is ordered from a financial institution delivered to a local branch for pick up instead of being mailed.
  • Outgoing mail that contains a check or personal information should be dropped off at a postal blue collection box or the local post office.

Sign up for direct deposit

  • Paychecks, retirement checks, and state or federal benefit checks can be set up with employers or the applicable agencies to be deposited directly into a bank account and eliminate the necessity of a physical check.

Destroy financial trash

  • Before tossing out old statements or other supporting documents with financial or PII information on it such as bank or credit statements, or invoices/receipts from transactions, feed them into a crosscut shredder that will convert the paper into unreadable confetti.

Avoid come-ons for personal information on the internet

  • Do not provide bank account or personal information in response to an unsolicited email, telephone call, text message, or when visiting a website that does not explain how personal information will be protected. A legitimate organization would not ask for this information.

Do not respond to random internet surveys and inquiries

  • Avoid responding to pop-up surveys that appear to be asking harmless questions like year of birth, home town, or other personal information which might make up security questions.

Be wary of the personal information shared through social media

  • Recognize that Facebook, LinkedIn and a variety of websites for trade associations or businesses provide information that a fraudster can use as a foundation to build a false identity, so limit the type of data that is included, such as age and state of residence.
  • The risk of falling victim to identity theft can never be completely eliminated. There are organizations that have pieces of peoples’ PII (such as retailers, hospitals, restaurants, et al.) that are out of the control of individuals to protect themselves. People must rely on these entities to safeguard PII data, but sometimes they fail. As such, you should be vigilant in looking for signs that you have become a victim of identity theft, notably:

Review bank account statements and credit card bills

  • Monitor these statements each month (paper and online) and contact the financial institution immediately if something suspicious is noticed, and contact the institution if a statement or credit card bill does not arrive on time.

Review credit report at least annually

  • Credit reports should be reviewed carefully for warning signs of potential identity theft, particularly items such as credit cards, loans, or leases never applied for.

Report fraudulent activity

  • Complaints about problems with credit reporting can be directed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at or 1-855-411-2372.


(This article was adapted from information reported in the CFPB and FDIC’s Resource Guide, “Money Smart for Older Adults”)