Safety Tips That Protect Your Identity

Consumers who take precautionary steps to protect themselves and their identity are less likely to have their personal information stolen and misused.

Javelin Strategy & Research recommends that consumers follow a three-step approach—Prevention, Detection, Resolution™ -- to minimize their risk and impact of identity fraud.

1. Keep Personal Data Private
  • Use a password on your personal computer or mobile secure sensitive records.
  • Lock your PC and mobile devices at home and at work, as some cases of fraud were perpetrated by friends and co-workers.
  • Update the security software on your PC and mobile devices.
  • In your social media profiles and activities, do not reveal any personal information that your bank or other companies would use to confirm your identity: your mother’s maiden name, place of birth, pet’s name, and more. Adjust your security settings to allow only people you approve to view your profile.
  • For your bills, turn off paper statements and use online bill pay.
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi hotspots when logging in to your bank account or paying for purchases online.

2. Choose unique passwords and change them often

Javelin found consumers on average use only 4 separate passwords to access 9 online accounts. With common passwords being shared across accounts, if 1 password is compromised, fraudsters could easily access numerous accounts.

  • Choose a unique password for each account, especially ones with sensitive financial information.
  • Change your passwords at least every six months.
  • Use a combination of letters (uppercase and lowercase), numbers, and symbols for your passwords.
  • Do not use common passwords such as “12345” or “password.”

More tips for secure passwords?

Checkout Memorable Password Cipher to Create Strong Passwords (video)


3. Just say ‘No’ to providing your Social Security number
  • Ask who is requesting the information, why it is needed, and how it will be used.
    • It is OK to say, “No.”
    • It is OK to ask if you can provide another form of proof of your identity.
  • Ask your bank to place a note on your account stating that you will never provide your SSN to verify your identity. That will alert the bank if a fraudster tries to use your SSN.
4. Watch for phishing
  • Criminals may pose as your bank to persuade you to volunteer the information they need to access your accounts.
  • Be wary of unsolicited communication from your bank(s). Do not click links in emails that appear to be from your bank. Instead, open a browser and enter the bank’s URL to access your account.
4. Practice good mobile habits

While smartphones can provide a convenient way to conduct banking on the go, they also pose unique threats to your financial security. Smartphone and tablet owners were both more likely to be victims of fraud in 2013 and 2014.

  • Use an app instead of a mobile browser when banking or making purchases. Download apps only from official app stores. Read reviews of the app and check what permissions it requests before downloading the app.
  • Use trusted software to wipe a lost or stolen mobile device. Features such as “lost mode” on Apple devices or Google’s “Android Device Manager” can also include location detection to help you retrieve a lost or stolen device.


6. Be Proactive

In 2014, 30% of fraud was detected by the victims who were actively protecting themselves.

  • Monitoring your accounts at bank and credit card websites weekly can help you detect and stop fraud early.
  • Sign up for mobile and email alerts when any changes are made to your financial accounts (banks, credit cards, etc.).
  • Request your free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus at or by calling 877-322-8228. Order your report from one of the three credit bureaus every four months — staggering the delivery of these three reports allows you to review your credit three times a year at no charge to you.
  • Consider signing up for additional services providing ID protection, credit monitoring, fraud alerts, and credit freezes.

7. Take any data breach notification seriously

One in 6 consumers who received a data breach letter in 2014 also became a victim of fraud. This means that many who are alerted fail to take action. Javelin recommends the following steps:

  • Confirm the letter is legitimate.
  • Accept any free protection services that are offered by a financial institution or retailer.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit report. A basic fraud alert is active for 90 days and requires lenders to make sure it is actually you applying for credit.
  • Closely monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity and charges.
8. Don’t wait. — Report problems immediately!

A fast response can increase your chance of stopping the fraudsters. Immediately contact your bank and credit card companies. 

  • Report all lost or stolen cards and/or fraudulent transactions immediately. Consumer liability for credit card fraud is legally limited to $50 per account. The same is true for debit cards — but only if the fraud is reported within two days. After that, the liability limit jumps to $500. If you wait more than 60 days, you could be on the hook for the entire fraud amount.