Protecting My Money

Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes. It happens when someone steals your personal information and then uses it to buy things that you have to pay for.

What Can Happen if a Thief Steals Your Identity?

The thief can:

  • Take out a loan in your name;
  • Open credit cards in your name;
  • Rent an apartment and open utility accounts in your name;
  • Use your ATM card and take all of the money out of your account;
  • Get a driver’s license or other ID card, using YOUR name, and THEIR photo; and
  • Try to use your Social Security number to get government benefits for themselves.

You need to protect your personal information to avoid being responsible for purchases you did not make. You can check for identity theft at least three times a year by getting a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. (We’ll talk about credit reports and credit bureaus in the next topic.)

A man using a power wheelchair holds a piece of paper over a shredder with help from a woman standing next to him.
Michael is shredding an old credit card bill. Contact your municipality to ask about local shredding events.

How Can You Protect Your Identity?

  • Never throw personal information in the trash, especially a public trash can. Always shred personal documents like credit card bills, ATM receipts, and bank statements. Be sure you shred items small enough that they cannot be put back together.
  • Use only secure websites (look for https in the address or a small lock icon in the address bar) when you make online purchases. PayPal is a safe way to make online purchases and payments. Also, do not to conduct sensitive transactions (such as online banking, making purchases with a credit card, or filing taxes) over a public Wi-Fi network.
  • Be aware of who is around and may be watching when you use an ATM.
  • Be very cautious when giving out your Social Security number or financial information online or to someone over the phone.
  • When you create a User Identification (ID) and Personal Identification Number (PIN) code for an account, make it something that will be difficult to guess (don’t use your birthday).
  • Make sure that you keep a copy of all of your account numbers and online passwords in a safe place. A great way to do this is to buy a small notebook, and write down all of your important information. Make sure you keep the notebook in a safe place. There are also apps like Dashlane that can store your passwords securely for free.
  • If you ask someone to get cash for you with your debit or credit card, always ask for a receipt to be sure that the amount you received is exactly the amount that was withdrawn. Make sure to monitor your account by reviewing your bank statements online or when they come in the mail.
Blue USPS mailbox
A blue stand-alone USPS mailbox.

Keep your mail secure!

A theft of the master key for all the stand-alone United States Postal Service (USPS) mailboxes makes these mailboxes at risk for theft of their contents.

TIP: If you need to mail anything, go to you local branch of the Post Office and put your mail in the inside mail slot. Most post offices keep the outside door unlock, even if the Post Office is closed.

How to find your closest Post Office, click here: My local Post Office.


Avoid Scams

Criminals and con artists use scams to trick unsuspecting people into handing over their money. Learn more about how to protect yourself from common scams.

What Can You Do If Your Identity Is Stolen?

  • File a police report. This will provide legal rights for you with credit bureaus and companies where your identity theft took place.
  • Contact your credit union or bank where you do business to tell them your identity has been stolen.
  • If you have a credit card, contact the credit card company immediately.
  • Check your monthly credit card statement or log on to view your account online to check for purchases that you did not make. If there are purchases that you did not make, contact the credit card company, in writing, to let them know. Request twice-monthly copies of your credit report until your case is resolved. This is a free service for people who have had their identity stolen.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-438-4338 or online at

Cleaning up once your identity has been stolen is a very time-consuming job, so it is important to take time to do the necessary steps to be sure no one is ever able to make you a victim of identity theft.

Helpful Tips!

  • PayPal is a secure online financial service. You can sign up for a free PayPal account and then link it to your bank account, debit or credit card so that you can buy things online or in a store. Your financial information is never shared with the seller. PayPal does not charge a fee when you buy something, but there may be a small fee for some of the other services. Learn more about PayPal.
  • Phishing is a kind of identity theft where criminals try to get your personal information by pretending to be an honest business. Falling for a phishing scam can really hurt you. To Protect yourself against these scams, remember: Businesses should never ask you for personal information by email and you should never give it to them. Also, be careful when you click on links in an email. And always use a spam filter and antivirus software on your computer.