Protecting Your Identity and Personal Information

Male hands typing on a laptop keyboard

What Is Identity Theft and How Does It Occur?

Identity theft occurs when an individual uses your name, address, Social Security number (SSN), bank or credit card accounts or other personal information, without permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

Some examples of an identity thief’s work include:

  • Opening fraudulent bank or credit card accounts in your name and then writing bad checks or incurring charges. These accounts appear on your credit report.
  • Establishing unauthorized loans in your name.
  • Using your name if they are arrested for a crime.
  • Committing tax-related fraud by using your SSN to file a tax return to get a refund.

Identity thieves can steal your information in various ways, such as stealing your wallet or purse, placing malicious software (malware) on your computer that can steal your user IDs, passwords, and more, conducting phone or email scams or hoaxes requesting that you provide personal information to claim a prize or update an account, and the list goes on.

Protect Your Information Online

The Internet has continuous access to your computer. With continuous access, it is easier for a hacker to gain access to your computer. Here are some tips for preventing unauthorized access to your computer:

  • Learn about your computer’s security settings.
  • Install and maintain antispam and antivirus software.
  • Install software that checks for spyware – malicious programs that run undetected on personal computers without allowing thieves remote access to your system or information.
  • Always log off your computer.
  • Set your browser and operating system to automatically download and install security updates.
  • Never reply to email or pop-up messages that ask for personal financial information such as your SSN, date of birth, or mother’s maiden name.
  • Do not open email attachments or links from unknown individuals.
  • Never forward chain letters that you receive. They can clog email servers and may contain viruses, spyware or worms.
  • Regularly review your financial accounts and statements for unusual activity.
  • When accessing your bank accounts online, always log off when you are finished.


Keep Your Passwords Secure

  • Always use a different password for each service or website.
  • Avoid storing passwords in your browser and software programs that save or remember passwords.
  • Change your passwords regularly.
  • Do not disclose passwords or PINs to anyone. If you share a joint account, do not use the same PIN for multiple cards or services.
  • Do not store passwords in documents or files on your computer hard drive.
  • Never check the “remember my password” box when offered to you.
  • Avoid using SSN, birthdays, names of relatives, phone numbers and other personal information in passwords.
  • Use combinations of numbers, letters (both upper and lowercase) and punctuation.
  • Make passwords that are at least 8 characters long, as longer passwords are more difficult to identify. Make sure the password is something you can remember.

How to Recognize a Secured Website

  • Closed padlock or key indicates that information from your transaction is being encrypted or scrambled so that it would be useless to anyone who gained access to it without authorization.
  • Green Navigation Bar indicates that the transaction is encrypted and the organization has been authenticated.
  • https:// indicates the connection is secure. The “s” is for secure.


Reference: The USAA Educational Foundation. (2012). Protecting Your Identity and Personal Information.

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