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Protect your information

Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information to open accounts and make unauthorized transactions in your name. According to the Federal Trade Commission, it's one of the fastest growing crimes in the world today. The best way to take these criminals on is learning the tricks of their trade.

Methods they use

Phishing and spoofs

Emails claiming to be from well-known companies direct you to "spoof" (or fake) websites and request your personal information. Learn more about phishing and how to resist taking the bait.

Dumpster diving

Some criminals even rummage through garbage cans for bank statements or credit card numbers. So the simplest way to stay safe is cutting up your cards and shredding your documents before throwing them away.

Combing mailboxes

Criminals look through your postal service mailbox if it's unattended and unlocked. This is much cleaner and faster than looking through your trash. If your mailbox isn’t secure, consider switching to electronic bank and credit card statements.


Another way criminals can take advantage of you is by listening in on your conversations for sensitive information they can use to steal your identity. Be aware of your surroundings. Shield the keypad at ATMs when punching in your code, and be careful when discussing financial information in public.

How to help prevent identity theft

Safeguard your information, both online and offline

Don’t reuse passwords. Using strong, unique passwords for each important account is the simplest and most powerful way to avoid to identity theft. Mix upper and lowercase letters with symbols, and create unique passwords for each of your accounts.

Shred important documents. Identity thieves rummaging through your trash or breaking into your mailbox may pose an even greater threat than online theft.

Carry only what you need. It's been estimated that 14% of identity theft comes from stolen wallets, checkbooks, and credit cards. That's a pretty good reason to leave your social security card and seldom-used credit cards at home in a safe place.

Use secure methods of payment whenever possible

When handled with care, checks can be perfectly safe. But keep in mind that when you hand a stranger a check, you're also giving them your bank name, account number, address, and signature. Online payments are safer. Online payment systems like PayPal make transactions as secure as possible. Another benefit is the person or business you purchase from or send money to won’t be able to see your credit card or bank account numbers.

Log out when you are done

If you don’t click the link to do it yourself, you'll be automatically logged out of PayPal after 10 - 15 minutes of inactivity. On a shared or public computer, this could allow someone to access your account after you’ve walked away. That’s why it’s important to log out of your PayPal account each time you finish using it. There’s a log out link at the top of every page.

Keep your computer protected

Keep your computer and mobile devices protected. See System security tips for more suggestions.

Always be vigilant

Report suspicious activity immediately. If you spot anything out of the ordinary – from phishing to fake websites to unauthorized account activity – report it right away. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you're less likely to be seriously impacted by identity theft if you discover and report the incident within six months.

Monitor your accounts frequently. Log in to your PayPal account and check your credit card and bank accounts on a regular basis for unfamiliar transactions. That way, you'll know if something's going on before it's too late.