Important Tips for Preventing Identity Theft

envelopes in mail slot

In 2017, roughly 16.7 million people were affected by identity theft, totaling at nearly $16.8 billion stolen. Many seemingly harmless behaviors can make you vulnerable to identify theft: making purchases over the phone, recycling old bills or logging onto free WiFi. And simply losing your wallet or digital devices can be a golden opportunity for identity thieves. But you can protect yourself from these criminals by following these identity theft safety tips.

1. Keep information from scammers

Online scam artists go fishing for money on the Internet by sending official-looking emails that appear to be from a large banking institution. The messages ask the recipient to click on a link and re-enter personal data in order to verify accounts. A similar scam involves phone calls in which someone pretends to be a representative of a bank or government institution – and, of course, they need your Social Security number or bank account numbers. Never share your information unless you are the one who contacted a bank or institution.

2. Only use social media for socializing

Thoroughly investigate any friends’ appeals for “emergency funds” through Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites. More often than not, those messages are the work of hackers.

3. Invest in a shredder

When it comes to identity thieves, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Some criminals will wade through garbage at dump sites or before weekly trash pickups, looking for billing statements with telltale account numbers. So resist the temptation to simply toss all your mail into the recycling bin. Instead, take the time to shred anything with personal information first.

4. Visit the Post Office

Whenever you send bill payments or checks through the mail, bring it to a postal facility or drop it directly in a blue United States Postal Service mailbox. This will prevent identity thieves from seeing personal information on outgoing bill payment stubs – or chemically stripping checks of their ink and instead making your payments out to their own names. If your mail ever is stolen, U.S. Postal Inspector Public Information Officer Peter R. Rendina suggests reporting the crime online at

5. Protect your medical identity

Medical identity theft involves stealing medical and financial information, which is then used to illegally obtain or pay for health care treatments, buy prescription drugs or submit false insurance claims in your name. Medical identity theft can have a serious impact on your personal, financial and medical well-being. Identity theft could even impact the treatments you receive, if erroneous information winds up in your records as a result. In some cases, false medical records can result in a patient being denied or losing coverage.

Carry only the identification you need. Keeping all of your ID cards on you just makes it all that easier for thieves to steal your identify if your wallet or pocketbook is lost or stolen. You can also remove your social security number from your health insurance card. Your health insurance company will give you a new participant number upon request.

Remember to always review your records. Request to see your medical records periodically, and verify that they are correct.

If you have been the victim of identity theft, file a police report then download and fill out a copy of the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Victims’ Complaint and Affidavit (PDF). Send copies to your credit card companies and the credit bureaus to alert them to the problem and to make sure you’re on track to getting your identity back.

Learn more about how to prevent identity theft and protect yourself with Nationwide Identify Theft Coverage. You’ll also enjoy extra protection for your sensitive data while you surf the Internet.