OAKLAND – In recognition of Identity Theft Awareness Week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta today provided Californians with tips on how to avoid identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud. Personal information may include things like your name, credit card number, or social security number (SSN). This Identity Theft Awareness Week, Attorney General Bonta encourages individuals to use the tips below to protect their personal information and protect their money from identity theft and fraud.
“Whether it’s the result of a data breach, wallet theft or a successful phishing attempt, identity theft can happen to anyone at any time. That’s why it’s important to take the necessary steps to identify red flags and protect yourself.” said Attorney General Bonta. “This Identity Theft Awareness Week, I encourage Californians to keep a close eye on their personal information and take the necessary steps to help reduce the risk of identity theft.”
Tips to Avoid Identity Theft
Identity theft can happen to anyone. Below are tips that can help reduce your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Protect your social security number: SSNs have evolved into a universal identifier, serving as a key to much of your personal information. With just your name and SSN, an identity thief can open new bank and credit accounts, rent an apartment, or even get a job under your name. To protect your SSN, avoid carrying your Social Security card in your wallet and instead keep it at home in a safe place. Only provide your SSN when absolutely necessary — like on tax forms or employment records — and if a company asks for your SSN, see if there’s another number that can be used instead. If requested by a government agency, expect to see a mandatory “disclosure” form which should indicate whether your SSN is required or optional, how it will be used, and the agency’s legal authority to request it.
- Recognize “phishing” attempts and don’t take the bait: Scammers “phish” their victims by posing as banks, stores or government agencies. They will attempt to trick you into providing your personal information by phone, text, email and postal mail. While some organizations may need to verify your account number, password, or SSN, legitimate companies will never contact you this way. W-2 phishing emails are another form of phishing scam that is particularly common during tax time. In these types of scams, cybercriminals target and trick employees of a specific company, including payroll or human resources employees, into providing IRS W-2 forms. Using spoofing techniques, the scammer disguises an email to make it appear as if it came from the leader of an organization or other trusted person in an attempt to request a list of all company employees and their W-2 forms. The best way to avoid phishing attempts is to never give out personal information to anyone unless you are the one who made the first contact.
- Protect your online information and accounts with strong passwords: Passwords play an important role in protecting your online accounts and personal information. Protect yourself by using different and unique passwords for each of your online accounts. Make sure the passwords you use are at least eight characters long, including a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. It is best to never reuse passwords and consider using a password manager. If you can, consider using two-factor authentication to provide an extra layer of security for your accounts.
- Check your credit card bills and bank statements often: Protect yourself against fraud by constantly checking your credit card bills and bank statements for any signs of identity theft. Look for unauthorized debits, withdrawals or unexpected bills and report irregular activity to your bank as soon as you see it. If you notice that an invoice hasn’t arrived on time, it could mean that someone has changed your account details to hide a fraudulent charge.
- Take advantage of free annual credit reports: One of the best ways to protect yourself against identity theft is to monitor your credit history. You are entitled to a free credit report each year from each of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Your credit history contains information from financial institutions, utilities, landlords, insurers and others. By checking your credit reports at least once a year, you can identify signs of identity theft, as well as errors in your report that could increase the cost of your credit. Order your free annual credit reports by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-322-8228, or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Identity theft victims
If you are a victim of identity theft, contact your local police department or sheriff’s office immediately. You can also report identity theft and generate a recovery plan using the Federal Trade Commission website at voldidentite.gov.
For more information and resources on identity theft, visit the Attorney General’s website at oag.ca.gov/idtheft.