Protecting yourself from identity theft


  1. Do not disclose your full nine-digit Social Security number unless absolutely necessary, and never use it as an identifier or password. Question those who ask for it.
  2. Avoid paper billing by requesting secure electronic statements instead. If you require hard copies, you can print and store them safely without risking mail theft.
  3. Lock your mailbox if it's lockable.
  4. Shred documents containing personal information (name, account numbers, social security number, birth date) before throwing them away. 
  5. Configure your computer and/or smartphone to require a password for use, and set another password for sensitive files. Use unique passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Do not use your birth date, a close relative's birth date, or a combination of letters and numbers on Splashdata's annual list of the most stolen passwords.
  6. Avoid using the same password for different accounts, and change your passwords once or twice per year.
  7. Install and update antivirus, anti-malware, and security programs on all computers, tablets, and smartphones.
  8. Don’t disclose information commonly used to verify your identity on social networking sites, such as date of birth, city of birth, mother’s maiden name, name of high school, etc. If you do, don't use that information to verify your identity.
  9. Avoid using credit or debit cards or conducting online banking transactions or making purchases, paying bills, or sending sensitive information over unsecured WiFi networks (e.g., any network without a password log-in, such as on trains, at airports, coffee shops, or hotels).
  10. Disable Bluetooth connections on devices when not in use.
  11. Watch out for “phishing” and other “social engineering” scams. Phishing is when identity thieves request personal information by pretending to be a legitimate entity, such as a bank or the IRS. Ignore unsolicited requests for personal information by email or over the phone, and only contact entities by means you know to be authentic. Do not contact an entity by clicking a link sent as part of an email requesting personal information, because phishers often link to authentic-looking, fake webpages. You can also call the phone number on the back of a card previously issued to you, or call the phone number on an old statement from that issuer. 
  12. Fight “skimmers.” Do not give your debit card to a restaurant server or anyone who could have a hand-held skimming device out of sight. When using an ATM, look for suspicious cameras and holes, and touch to confirm that extra parts (loose or slightly different colors) have not been installed over the card reader. Always cover your hand while hand typing a PIN, and avoid using ATMs in secluded locations.
  13. When accessing financial information on your smartphone, only use apps authorized by your bank or published by reputable app makers. Apps that show thousands of downloads are probably safe. Do not access apps on public open wi-fi.
  14. Place security, or credit freezes, on your credit report. Our separate “security freeze” tips explain how to guarantee peace of mind against new account identity theft by freezing your credit reports, then thawing them only when you are in the credit markets. A creditor will deny credit to an imposter who applies for credit using the name and Social Security Number of a consumer who has placed a freeze.


  1. Check your monthly statements for unauthorized charges. Be suspicious of phone calls about surprise debts.
  2. Sign up to receive email and/or text notifications of account activity and changes to account information.
  3. Instead of paying for over-priced subscription credit monitoring, use your free annual credit reports by law as your own credit monitoring service. Every 12 months, federal law gives you the right to receive one free credit report from each of the three main consumer reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Instead of requesting three at the same time, request one credit report from one of the bureaus every four months. Verify that the information is correct, and an account has not been opened without your knowledge. Free credit reports are available online at or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Seven states – Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Vermont also provide an additional free report by state law, available by contacting each bureau directly.

Types of Identity Theft:

Federal law recognizes two sorts of identity theft—existing account fraud and new account (account takeover) identity theft.

Existing Account Fraud: Victims of data breaches where only their account numbers were taken are well-protected by law, although victims of lost debit card numbers may face bounced checks and cash flow problems until the bank replaces their funds. The Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) provides for no liability if you notify the financial institution within 60 days if only your debit card numbers are stolen. However, if you actually llose a debit card or other device that can access your bank account, your liability could be up to $500 if you fail to notify the bank within 2 days of finding out about the loss and could increase even higher if you fail to notify the bank within 60 days. Under the separate Truth In Lending Act, credit card customers are always well protected by law, never facing liability of greater than $50 for fraudulent use of a card.

New Account Identity Theft: A thief who obtains your Social Security Number may attempt to open new accounts in your name. This form of identity theft is difficult to clear up. A thief who obtains your email address may contact you in a phishing scam to try and trick you into providing your SSN and birth date, which are the keys to new account identity theft. Thieves apply for credit with your name, your SSN and their own address. The creditor then obtains a credit report and issues credit to the thief.

Be Wary of New Types of Identity Theft: Note that online tax preparers and the IRS itself have been hacked, resulting in tax refund fraud. Health insurance data breaches may result in medical services theft. A federal agency, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), has recently been breached. Detailed security clearance dossiers that were taken provide thieves with the opportunity to commit new account identity theft and could subject victims to reputational risk and emotional harms, since information on possible marital affairs, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, previous arrests even without convictions, may have been taken.


Step 1: Notify your financial institutions.

If you discover that your wallet, checkbook, credit card or other sensitive information has been lost or stolen, immediately notify the issuing bank, credit card issuer, or relevant institution to close all existing accounts. 

Step 2: Get an Identify Theft Affidavit.

If you suspect identity theft, report it to the Federal Trade Commission using the online complaint form or by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT. When making the report, you will be given an option to receive an Identity Theft Affidavit. This document, together with the police report, will be critical to minimizing the damage.

Step 3: File a police report.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, file a report with your local police department. When you make the report, bring a copy of the Identity Theft Affidavit. The police report will be important for insurance purposes. Keep copies of the police report and Identity Theft Affidavit.

Step 4: Contact the three major credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your accounts. If you haven’t already, it’s time to place a security freeze.

An important next step is to place a fraud alert and a security freeze on your credit report. Placing a fraud alert tells businesses checking your credit rating that there may be fraud involved in the account. The fraud alert must be renewed after 90 days, and it entitles you to receive one free credit report from each of the main agencies. The security freeze stops anyone from seeing your credit report without your permission. Alerts and freezes can be placed by contacting the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies noted below. Initiating a credit freeze does not impact your credit score.

  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289;; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285;; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742);; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

Step 5: If your social security number was stolen, contact the Social Security Administration.

File a report and access resources at You can also call 1-800-772-1213.



Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG, Consumer Advocates Join Fight to Protect CFPB in Court

Today, U.S. PIRG, Americans for Financial Reform, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Center for Responsible Lending, Self-Help Credit Union and Maeve Elise Brown, who chairs the CFPB Consumer Advisory Board, filed a motion with the DC Circuit, US Court of Appeals for leave to intervene in PHH vs. CFPB, a lawsuit challenging the CFPB's single-director structure. Today, Senator Sherrod Brown (OH) and Rep. Maxine Waters (CA), ranking members of the Senate Banking and House Financial Services Committees, also filed a similar motion. Earlier this week, 17 state Attorneys General filed a similar motion on behalf of their citizens. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This week, CFPB Sues TCF Bank for overdraft schemes and loan servicer Navient for "failing" students | Ed Mierzwinski

Despite an escalation of threats to exterminate the Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau, CFPB continues to protect consumers well. This week it sued TCF Bank over deceptive overdraft marketing schemes and it sued Navient, the student loan servicer and Sallie Mae spinoff, for "failing" students at every step of the repayment process. The TCF complaint notes that its CEO brazenly named his boat "Overdraft."

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Report Finds 1 In 4 Consumers Feel "Threatened" By Debt Collector Tactics | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine for release of new CFPB data on debt collector abuses. Fully 1 in 4 consumers feel "threatened" by abusive, possibly illegal, debt collector tactics. The release also included an emphasis on problems with the "debt buyer" industry, comprised of firms that buy older, uncollected debt for as little as less than a penny on the dollar.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This New Year, Celebrate the CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

This month, we published our 8th report based on analyzing consumer complaints collected in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database. The release of "Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees" provides a good year-end opportunity to summarize a few of the reasons to be thankful for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over in July 2011 as the first federal regulator with just one job: protecting consumers from unfair financial practices. The idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

> Keep Reading

Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

> Keep Reading


News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Report: Analysis of Payday Complaints Reveals Need for Stronger Federal Protections

Consumer complaints about payday loans to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) show a critical need for strengthening the agency’s proposed rule to rein in payday loans and other high-cost lending, according to a report released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

CFPB Turns 5 Years Old, PIRG Celebrates Accomplishments, Warns of Ongoing Threats

This week, on July 21, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns 5 years old. The CFPB, a brainchild of then-professor Elizabeth Warren, was championed by U.S. PIRG and Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), a PIRG-backed coalition of civil rights and community groups, as part of Wall Street Reform legislation enacted in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse triggered by risky bank practices. U.S. PIRG warned, however, that the successful bureau, the first federal financial agency with only one job, protecting consumers, faces continued threats.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Joint Statement Opposing Exceptions to CFPB Payday Rule

We've joined 10 other leading consumer, community, religious and civil rights organizations to oppose exemptions to a strong CFPB payday and auto title lending rule and to reiterate our opposition to an exception that has already been considered and rejected that would allow lenders to make longer-term installment loans without considering a borrower’s ability to repay so long as the payment did not exceed five percent of a borrowers’ income.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S.PIRG | Consumer Protection

Strong National Payday Rule Could Save Consumers Billions

Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released its draft high cost small dollar lending (payday and auto title) loan rule for public comment. 

> Keep Reading

LATimes: Obama's consumer protection legacy defined by aggressive agency

[This weekend, the Los Angele Times chronicled President Obama's consumer protection record, with heavy emphasis on the history and fight over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB):]

"[...] Launched in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the bureau is one of President Obama’s signature accomplishments. [...] “I think you have to consider him a tremendous president for consumers,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group."

> Keep Reading


Report | Florida PIRG | Consumer Protection

Total Recall: The Need for CPCS Reform Now

The year 2007 was called the year of the recall. But in 2008, recalls are up, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data. Already, as these data show, more toys and children’s products have been recalled in the first half of this year than in the first half of last year, a supposed “100-year-flood” period. Yet the remedial CPSC reform legislation passed overwhelmingly by both the House and Senate in response to that 2007 recall wave has yet to become law.

> Keep Reading
Report | Florida PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mixed Signals

Florida PIRG and other PIRG's around the country conducted “secret shopper” surveys at 132 electronics stores in ten states to determine if America’s big electronics retailers are properly preparing their customers for the digital transition.  The results were released today in Florida PIRG’s new report: “Mixed Signals: How Retailers Mislead Consumers on the Digital Television (DTV) Transition.”

> Keep Reading


Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Time To Defend CFPB as Senate Banking Committee Aims Sights at It | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED 12 April: The Senate Banking Committee held a stacked hearing on "Assessing Consumer Regulations" yesterday (5 April), although our one pro-consumer witness and pro-CFPB Senators defended consumer protection ably as three industry-backed witnesses and their supporters on the committee had a great deal of trouble proving their case that the CFPB should be dismantled. Tomorrow morning, (7 April) CFPB Director Richard Cordray will present the statutory "Semi-Annual Report of the CFPB" to the committee. We submitted a statement to be entered into the hearing record, as did other Americans for Financial Reform coalition members.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

What is payday lending? | Kathryn Lee

We are a leading member of Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition that was instrumental in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by Congress in 2010. The CFPB is currently working on a rule to reign in the payday lending industry. We, along with AFR, are working to make sure the rule is a strong one. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Lowering your APR might be easier than you think | Kathryn Lee

Many Americans are walking around with a balance on their credit card because of high interest rates, or annual percentage rate (APR) charges for unpaid balances. It's best to pay off your balance in full but if you don't or can't, a higher APR makes your debit grow faster. What most people don’t realize is this APR can be negotiated to a lower rate.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

100+ Groups Oppose Provisions That Threaten Public Protections | Mike Litt

The White House is expected to release its fiscal year 2017 budget proposal tomorrow. U.S. PIRG and various state PIRGs joined a coalition of more than 100 groups that sent the following letter calling on President Barack Obama and all 535 members of Congress to oppose any federal appropriations bill that contains ideological policy riders. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

House Tees Up VW Bailout and Other Attacks on Public Protections, Consumer Rights | Ed Mierzwinski

(Updated 8 January to add vote results): You've probably heard that the House is soon planning to again repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That bill will certainly be vetoed. But the House has other anti-consumer, anti-environmental bills scheduled for floor action this week and next. The bills take aim at agency health, financial and safety regulations and also consumer rights to band together as a class to take their grievances against corporate wrongdoers to court. That last bill would immunize Volkswagen from having to compensate VW Diesel owners for being deceptively sold cars designed to "defeat" air pollution requirements.

> Keep Reading


View AllRSS Feed

Defend the CFPB

Tell your senators to oppose the “Financial CHOICE Act,” which would gut Wall Street reforms and destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as we know it.

Support Us

Your donation supports Florida PIRG’s work to stand up for consumers on the issues that matter, especially when powerful interests are blocking progress.

Consumer Alerts

Join our network and stay up-to-date on our campaigns, get important consumer updates and take action on critical issues.
Optional Member Code