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Preventing Identity Theft

Some practical steps

Our Two Cents

If you lose a credit card but aren’t sure it’s been stolen, call your bank or lock it immediately through your bank’s app. You can quickly unlock it if you find your card.

Just as credit cards are a part of everyday life, unfortunately so is identity theft. It starts when someone uses your personally identifying information (your name, Social Security number or credit card number) without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

And it’s not just a threat to those who use ATMs and the Internet. Even your mailbox can make you vulnerable. According to the Federal Trade Commission, as many as 10 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

Can you protect yourself? Absolutely. Here are three simple yet effective steps you can take right now.

Be aware.

To protect yourself, you first you need to be aware of how information is stolen. Identity thieves use a variety of tactics, including:

  • Rummaging through trash for bills or other paper containing personal information.
  • Skimming credit or debit card numbers with a special storage device when processing your card.
  • Sending spam or pop-up messages from phony financial institutions in an attempt to get you to reveal your personal information.
  • Completing a phony change of address form to divert your billing statements to another location.
  • Stealing wallets, purses—even mail from your mailbox.
  • Using false pretexts to obtain your personal information from banks, telephone companies and other sources.

Guard your personal and account information.

Be proactive about protecting your identifying information. Be sure to:

  • Shred documents and paperwork that contain personal information such as credit card receipts or loan applications.
  • Protect your PIN numbers, especially for ATMs. If you must write them down, never carry them in your wallet.
  • When using the Internet, keep your login ID and password confidential.
  • Change your passwords often.
  • Report stolen credit cards immediately.
  • Keep your online security software up to date and turned on.
  • Check your credit report regularly for unauthorized activity.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check.
  • Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you made the initial contact and know who you’re dealing with.

Report suspicious activity immediately.

Resolving identity problems can take time and money. And it can cause tremendous damage to your good name and credit record. So look for the signs and take action immediately.

Has your mail suddenly been stopped? Is there an unusual charge on a credit card? Have you been erroneously contacted by a collection agency? Don’t waste a moment. Call the post office, your credit card company, the phone company—whatever is necessary.

You can also put a fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.


The information on this website is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal, or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner, or investment manager.

The Charles Schwab Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, private foundation that is not part of Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. or its parent company, The Charles Schwab Corporation.

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