OAKLAND – In recognition of Identity Theft Awareness Week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta today provided Californians with tips to avoid falling victim to identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud, typically for financial gain. This can include your name, credit card information, Social Security Number (SSN), or other identifying information. This Identity Theft Awareness Week, Attorney General Bonta encourages individuals to utilize the tips below to keep their assets safe from identity theft and fraud.
“Every day, identity theft costs Californians valuable time and money to restore their good name,” said Attorney General Bonta. “This Identity Theft Awareness Week, I urge everyone to stay vigilant and take proactive measures 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 you lower 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 your name and SSN alone, an identity thief can open new credit and bank accounts, rent an apartment, or even obtain employment 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 – such as on tax forms or employment records – and if a business asks you for your SSN, see if there is another number that can be used instead. If a government agency asks for it, expect to see a required “disclosure” form that should provide information on whether your SSN is required or optional, how it will be used, and the agency's legal authority to ask for it.
- Recognize "phishing" attempts and don't take the bait: Scam artists "phish" for victims by posing as banks, stores, or government agencies. They will attempt to trick you into providing your personal information via phone call, text, e-mail, and postal mail. While some organizations may need to verify your account number, password, or SSN, legitimate companies will never reach out to you in this way. W-2 phishing emails are another form of phishing scams that are particularly common during tax season. In these types of scams, cybercriminals target and trick employees of a specific company, including employees of payroll or human resources departments, into providing IRS W-2 forms. Using spoofing techniques, the scammer disguises an email to make it appear as if it is coming from an organization’s executive or some 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 initial contact.
- Protect your online information and accounts with strong passwords: Passwords play an important role in keeping your online accounts and personal information safe. Protect yourself by using different, unique passwords for each of your online accounts. Make sure that the passwords you use are at least eight characters, including a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. It’s best to never reuse passwords and consider using a password manager. If given the option to do so, consider using a two-factor authentication to provide an extra layer of security to your accounts.
- Check your credit card bills and bank statements often: Protect yourself from fraud by consistently checking your credit card bills and bank statements for signs of identity theft. Look for unauthorized charges, withdrawals, or unexpected bills, and report irregular activity to your bank as soon as you see it. If you notice that a bill didn’t arrive on time, it may mean that someone has changed the contact information on your account in order to hide fraudulent charges.
- Take advantage of free annual credit reports: One of the best ways to protect against identity theft is to monitor your credit history. You are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. 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 errors in your report that could be raising 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.
If you are a victim of identity theft, contact your local police department or sheriff’s office right away. You may also report identity theft and generate a recovery plan using the Federal Trade Commission’s website at identitytheft.gov.
For more information and resources on identity theft, visit the Attorney General’s website at oag.ca.gov/idtheft.