Identity theft: Don’t be a victim

Identity theft can ruin your life! Explore precautions you can take to protect your identity.

Identity theft is a serious crime. It occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft can cost you time and money. It can destroy your credit and ruin your good name. Michigan State University Extension educates consumers about ways to protect their identity and fight back if their identity has been stolen.

There are common ways identity theft happens:

  • Dumpster diving: people rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
  • Skimming: people steal credit or debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
  • Phishing: people pretend to be financial institutions, companies or government agencies and send email or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
  • Hacking: people hack into your email or other online accounts to access your personal information or into a company’s database to access its records.
  • “Old-fashioned” stealing: people steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personal records from their employers or bribe employees how have access.

The Federal Trade Commission says there are ways you can deter thieves by safeguarding your information.

  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you throw them away.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write it on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another form of identification.
  • Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with. Avoid disclosing personal financial information when using public wireless connections.
  • Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in the web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer and be sure to keep them up-to-date. If you use peer-to-peer file sharing, check the settings to make sure you are not sharing other sensitive or private files. Visit for more information
  • Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having work done in your house. A locked, fire safe box is a good idea.

To learn more about identity theft, you can visit or call 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338).

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