Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. Perpetrators use someone else’s personally identifying information to commit fraud, including borrowing money in another person’s name. Victims of identity theft often face debt and credit problems that require extensive time and effort to sort out.


Millions of Americans have fallen victim to identity theft.


Keep your information safe

  • Protect you Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary. (You can always ask to use another identifier.)

  • Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you know who you’re dealing with. Never click on links sent in unsolicited email messages. Instead, type in a Web address you know.

  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.

  • Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer – and keep them up to date.

  • 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 personal information in a secure place, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.

  • If you pay bills by mail, send your payments through a postal mailbox instead of leaving them for a carrier in your home mailbox.


Monitor your financial information

  • Review your various financial accounts and statements on a regular basis.
  • Request a free copy of your credit report at every year and review it.
  • Be on alert for things that require immediate attention:
    • Statements containing purchases you did not make
    • Calls or letters about purchases you did not make
    • Bills that do not arrive as expected
    • Unexpected credit card or account statements
    • Denials of credit for no apparent reason


Act quickly when you suspect identity theft

Review the Federal Trade Commission’s information on what to know and what to do in the event of identity theft at


You should also understand identity theft as it relates to student loans and financial aid. For instance, a federal student loan may be cancelled if it was falsely certified as a result of a crime of identity theft.


It is important to check the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) regularly while you are in school to make sure that you have actually received all/any financial aid listed for you. If you have any suspicions of fraud or identity theft, contact the U.S. Department of Education’s Ombudsman immediately.


You can also purchase Identity Theft Insurance. Although you are not responsible for paying on fraudulent charges made in your name, you must clean it up to clear your name. This can take hundreds of hours. Since one in 12 Americans will fall victim to identity theft, paying for an insurance plan that includes professionals to do the cleanup for you may be a good idea.