These days, many of us bank, communicate with healthcare providers and insurance companies, perform financial transactions, and shop via the Internet. This is convenient, but it also can put your personal information at risk if you're not careful.
- Before you donate or throw away a computer, use a specially designed program to "wipe" the hard drive so personal information is overwritten and can't be accessed.
- Install a firewall and anti-virus protection on your home computer, and keep it up to date.
- Use encryption software to scramble information you send over the Internet so it can't be intercepted by someone in route to its destination. Many banking and shopping websites, as well as other sites that require you to enter financial and other personal information, are equipped with their own encryption software. To ensure your information is being hidden from prying eyes, look for a lock icon in your browser's status bar.
- When you devise passwords for credit card, bank, health insurance, shopping, and other sites, make them as strong as possible. Avoid using whole words, dates, or other information that could be easily guessed. Use a combination of letters, symbols, and numbers.
- If you have trouble keeping track of account numbers, user names, and PIN numbers for varied accounts, consider a secure, online "wallet" or storage solution that stores all your personal data and keeps it locked down in a single, secure location only you can access.
- Be cautious about giving away too much personal information on social media sites. Avoid sharing your address, Social Security number, shopping information, account numbers, vacation plans, etc. Adjust your privacy settings so only the people you are close with can see your posts and view your information.
- Before you recycle, turn in, or sell a mobile device, remove the SIM card that contains records of your personal information.
- Don't send personal information over a public Wi-Fi connection, such as those in coffee shops and airports. When using public Wi-Fi, avoid using automatic log-in that saves your user name and password. Instead, log in by hand and log out when you are done so a thief can't use your laptop or mobile device to access your personal information. Only do business with secure sites over public Wi-Fi.
- Don't open files or click on links emailed by sources unfamiliar to you. These could be "phishing" scams that capture your passwords and other personal information.
Fact: According to a 2020 report, about 12% of phone theft lead to fraudulent charges and 9% to identity theft.
Top Five Types of Identity Theft, 2019 (1)
||Number of reports
||Percent of total top five
|Credit card fraud—new accounts
|Miscellaneous identity theft (2)
|Mobile telephone—new accounts
|Business or personal loan
|Auto loan or lease
|Total, top five
(1) Consumers can report multiple types of identity theft. In 2019, 18 percent of identity theft reports included more than one type of identity theft.
(2) Includes online shopping and payment account fraud, email and social media fraud, and medical services, insurance and securities account fraud, and other identity theft.
Source: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Sentinel Network.
Consider installing security software on your mobile device, especially if you use it to store, access, and transmit personally identifying information. Be cautious, too, about using apps for shopping, banking, investing, and other transactions. Ensure your information is protected with strong passwords, and consider subscribing to a service that will automatically "wipe" your device if it is misplaced or stolen.