Almost every day we share personal information about ourselves with others. Think about when you write a check, charge game tickets, rent a car, mail your tax returns, buy a gift online, call home on your cell phone, schedule a doctor's appointment or apply for a credit card. Each transaction requires you to share personal information: your bank and credit card account numbers; your income; your Social Security number (SSN); or your name, address and phone numbers.
What happens to the personal information you provide to companies, marketers and government agencies? It’s possible that these organizations could use your information to process your order; to tell you about products, services, or promotions; or to share with others.
One step further… what about the unscrupulous individuals, like identity thieves, who want your information to commit fraud? Identity theft - the fastest-growing white-collar crime in America - occurs when someone steals your personal identifying information, like your SSN, birth date or mother's maiden name, to open new charge accounts, order merchandise or borrow money. It’s not uncommon for consumers targeted by con artists to be unaware that they've been victimized. Most people find out when they’re contacted by collection agencies pursuing the consumers to cover debts they didn't even know they had.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) encourages you to make sure your transactions — online and off — are secure and your personal information is protected. The FTC offers these tips to help you manage your personal information wisely, and to help minimize its misuse:
Put passwords on all your accounts, including your credit card account, and your bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information — like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number — or obvious choices, like a series of consecutive numbers or your hometown football team.
Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry to what you'll actually need. Don't put all your identifying information in one holder in your wallet, purse, briefcase or backpack.
Keep items with personal information in a safe place. When you discard receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards, credit offers you get in the mail and mailing labels from magazines— shred them! That will help thwart any identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information.
Consider ordering a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs) every year. Make sure it's accurate and includes only those activities you've authorized. CRAs can't charge you more than $9.00 for a copy and in some states, your credit report is free.
Use a secure browser when shopping online to guard the security of your transactions. When submitting your purchase information, look for the "lock" icon on the browser's status bar to be sure your information is secure during transmission.