Millions of Americans, including high school and college students, have fallen victim to identity theft. There are a number of steps you can take to help prevent this from happening to you.

Protect personal information

To keep your personal information safe:

  • Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Provide the number only if absolutely necessary. (You can always ask to use another identifier.)
  • Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you know who you are dealing with. Never click on links sent in unsolicited email messages. Instead, type in a web address you know.
  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
  • Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer – and keep them up to date.
  • Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • Keep personal information in a secure place, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.
  • If you pay bills by mail, send your payments through a postal mailbox instead of leaving them for a mail carrier in your home mailbox.

 Monitor accounts and credit reports

To monitor your personal financial information:

  • Review your financial accounts and statements on a regular basis.
  • Request a free copy of your credit report at every year and review it.
  • Be on alert for things that require immediate attention:
    • Statements containing purchases you did not make
    • Calls or letters about purchases you did not make
    • Bills that do not arrive as expected
    • Unexpected credit card or account statements
    • Denials of credit for no apparent reason

 Act fast on identity theft

If you suspect identity theft:

  • Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website to browse recovery steps, report identity theft and get a recovery plan.
  • Understand identity theft as it relates to student loans and financial aid. For instance, a federal student loan may be cancelled if it was falsely certified as a result of a crime of identity theft.
  • Check the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) regularly while you are in school to make sure you have actually received all/any financial aid listed for you. If you have any suspicions of fraud or identity theft, contact the U.S. Department of Education’s Ombudsman immediately.
  • Consider purchasing identity theft insurance. Although you are not responsible for paying on fraudulent charges made in your name, you must clean it up to clear your name. This can take hundreds of hours. Since one in 12 Americans will fall victim to identity theft, paying for an insurance plan that includes professionals to do the cleanup for you may be a good idea.