Identity Theft

Did You Know?

According to the FTC, an estimated 9 million people have their identities stolen each year.

Millions of Americans use the Internet to make their lives more convenient by shopping and banking online. Unfortunately, the personal information that they share—anything from credit card to Social Security numbers—may expose them to identity theft.


According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity thieves can obtain information by rummaging through trash or stealing from purses, wallets, mailboxes, or homes.[1] They may also use electronic methods, such as those listed below.

  • Phishing relies on pop-ups, spam, and websites that look authentic to obtain personal information, such as log-in information and credit card numbers.
  • Pharming uses malicious code to redirect users to fraudulent sites where hackers can access their personal information.
  • Pretexting acquires personal information through false and illegal means, for example, obtaining financial information by pretending to call from a bank.

These scams are sometimes accomplished with the use of malware (software designed to damage computers). Spyware, for example, is malware that is used to collect information from a computer without the user’s knowledge. Another type of malware, known as the Trojan horse virus, often appears to be a legitimate download, but can let computer hackers remotely access your computer to steal personal information.

Once identity thieves obtain a victim’s personal information, they may use it to run up charges on credit cards, open additional accounts, take out loans, lease property, or apply for a driver’s license. Fortunately, by changing just a few habits, you can help protect yourself and your family from becoming victims of identity theft.

Protecting Yourself

The number one rule when it comes to protecting yourself from identity theft is pay attention! Many online scams depend on you being fooled by false websites, spam, and offers. Minimize the chance that you will be taken advantage of by closely examining any site that asks for your personal information. For example, look for “https” or a lock symbol in the address bar when making purchases online. This means that you are viewing a secure Web page with the necessary allocations for privacy and protection.

You should also talk to your children about online scamming techniques. Warn them about clicking on pop-ups and downloading programs from unknown sources, as these may be tricks to install malware or get personal information. Also, make sure to have antivirus software and firewall programs installed on your computer. Although these programs are not always infallible, they are essential in helping to keep your personal information private and your computer working properly.

Responding to Identity Theft

Checking your account statements and credit card reports frequently will give you the advantage when it comes to responding to identity theft. If you suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft, file a report with your local law-enforcement agency and the FTC, and place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Promptly close any compromised accounts.


Help protect your family’s identity

The more time that your children spend online, the more opportunities they will have to share information about themselves. Talk to your children about the information that they should never share without your permission, including Social Security numbers and credit or debit card numbers. Then, visit the FTC’s website to learn more about how to better protect yourself and your family, and how to file a complaint.

  • Never share your password or account numbers over an e-mail or instant message.
  • Do not follow links from e-mails when conducting financial transactions; instead, enter the URL yourself.
  • Be wary of callers, pop-ups, websites, or e-mails asking for personal information.
  • Look for “https” or a picture of a lock before purchasing from a website or giving out information on that website.
  • Create secure passwords and change them often.
  • Never download software from a source you do not trust or open e-mails or images from unfamiliar senders.
  • Install firewall, anti-spyware, and antivirus software, and update it often.
  • File a report with law enforcement and notify creditors if there is an incident or a suspicion of identity theft.

Discussion Starters

Start a discussion with your children

  • What do you consider your personal information?
  • Why is it important to keep personal information private?
  • What are some scams that you may have come across online?
  • Have you ever clicked on pop-ups? Do you think that they will give you what they promise?
  • How often do you change your passwords?
  • How can you tell if a website is secure?