First, to avoid identity theft and fraud consumers need to first know the ways which identity thieves try to steal your sensitive personal information:
- Skimming-thieves attach devices to ATM machines, ATM booth doorways, and gas-station pumps
- Phishing e-mail messages
- Change of Address: thieves divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form at the post office
- Old-fashioned theft: stealing your wallet or purse
- Pre-texting: thieves pretend to be you and contact (online or via phone) your bank or financial institution to obtain your personal information and money
- Fishing: accessing unlocked snail-mail mail boxes, or lowering "pieces of cardboard covered with glue down blue mail boxes and open envelopes that stick looking for personal information they can steal"
- Dumpster diving for financial statements and "convenience checks" you've thrown out in the trash without shredding them
- Discarded computers, with hard drives that contain personal information, that haven't been properly erased or destroyed before disposal
- Online research of government registers, Internet search engines, and public records to gain pieces of your personal information
- Remote-theft with portable readers that scan and read your contactless (e.g., RFID) debit/credit cards
- Shoulder surfing: simply looking over your shoulder when you make ATM transactions in public places
- Malware: using computer viruses to accesses the personal information on your (home) computer
- Employment scams: thieves advertise fake job openings and use the personal information submitted by applicants
- Social networking sites: thieves access profile pages left publicly open by consumers who ignore privacy settings, produce bogus quizzes, and/or hack a friend's account to gain access to your sensitive personal information
To combat these theft methods, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department suggests these 12 tips for consumers to protect themselves:
1. Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personal identifying information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information.
2. Check your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year.
3. Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Review your statements and close unused accounts. Be aware if bills don’t arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
4. Don’t carry your Social Security card or PIN numbers in your purse or wallet because of what can happen if they fall into the wrong hands.
5. Avoid giving any personal information over the phone, mail, or Internet unless you know who you are dealing with. Give it to them in person instead.
6. Criminals pretend they are collecting money for victims of a natural disaster. Sometimes they claim to be police officers and ask for donations.
7. Elderly people are frequently targeted in money scams. Keep a helpful eye for elderly family members and vulnerable neighbors.
8. Make sure that you disconnect your laptop from a broadband or a shared connection when you are not using it.
9. Avoid offers and pop-up ads that sound too good to be true. They want you to enter your information so they can access all of your personal information.
10. Remove your name from mailing lists for pre-approved credit offers. Pre-approved credit card offers are a target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).
11. Only enter personal information on secure Web pages that encrypt your data in transit. You can often tell if a page is secure if "https" is in URL or if there is a padlock icon on the browser window.
12. If you’re going to use a mail box, do so during or close to the posted pick up hours. Better yet, drop your mail off at your local post office. Retrieve mail promptly and discontinue delivery while out of town.