University of Idaho Extension

Protect Yourself

Shredding documents graphic

Use Passwords

To protect yourself from identity theft, place strong passwords on your accounts. Do not use:

  • Your mother's maiden name
  • Your birth date
  • Last four digits of your Social Security number
  • A series of consecutive numbers
  • Your phone number
  • Your street address or zip code

Protect Your Information

Do not provide personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you:

  • Placed the call, letter, or email
  • Know the company is reputable and the request legitimate
  • Guard against "phishing"

If you receive a call claiming you have won a prize:

  • Do not provide or confirm any personal information
  • Do not provide credit card information
  • Do not send money
  • Ask for the caller's name and phone number

Protect Your Computer

It's a good idea to adopt these identity-protecting practices:Protect Your Computer

  • Update your virus-protection software
  • Install patches for your operating system
  • Protect against intrusions and infections
  • Do not open files, click on hyperlinks, or download programs sent to you by strangers
  • Protect against spyware
  • Use a firewall program (if you use cable, DSL, or T-1)
  • Check for Website security features:
    • Lock icon on browser's status bar
    • URLs that start with https (the "s" stands for security)
  • Do not store financial information on laptops
  • Use a strong password consisting of upper-and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols
  • When donating or discarding a computer, clean it of all personal information:
    • You must do more than just delete files
    • If donating, buy or download a program that "wipes" or "shreds" files
    • If discarding, physically remove the hard drive and damage or destroy it

Guard Your Wallet or Purse

Do not:

  • Hang your purse over the back of a chair or put it in a shopping cart
  • Carry more credit cards than you need
  • Carry your passport, visa, or birth certificate
  • Carry your passwords or PINs
  • Carry your Social Security number or card

If your purse is stolen and your keys taken:

  • Change the locks on your home and vehicles
  • Do not give a thief the opportunity for more access to your personal information

Protect Your Mail


  • Use a locking mailbox or Post Office box for incoming mail
  • Do not leave mail lying around
  • Do not allow mail to pile up
  • Use the U.S. Post Office or postal mailbox for outgoing mail
  • Have new checks delivered to your bank

Protect Your Credit Cards


  • Shield your credit cards from view
  • Sign new cards when they arrive
  • Total your receipts and do not leave empty spaces where thieves can add additional amounts
  • Keep receipt copies so that you can compare them against monthly statements
  • Remove receipts from shopping bags


Watch out for shoulder surfers with camera cell phones. They can take a picture of your credit card, which can give them:

  • Your name
  • Credit card type
  • Credit card number
  • Credit card expiration date

Protect Your Bank Accounts

Do not:

  • Sign blank checks
  • Leave empty spaces on your checks where thieves can add additional amounts


  • Balance your checkbook every month
  • Remove your credit card or bank account numbers when submitting receipts for reimbursement to:
    • Charitable or professional organizations
    • Employers
    • Tax preparers
    • Firms offering product rebates

Check Your Credit Reports

To obtain a free copy of your credit report:

Visit or call toll-free at 877-322-8228

Mail the Annual Credit Report form at to:

  • Annual Credit Report Request Service
  • P.O. Box 105281
  • Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

To correct any errors on your credit report, contact:

Equifax - (1-800-685-1111)

Experian - (1-888-397-3742)

TransUnion - (1-800-916-8800)

Secure Your Documents


  • Keep vital information in a secure place
  • Have a list of all your credit card and bank account numbers
  • Photocopy front and back of your credit cards
  • Keep copies of credit card and bank statements
Developed by:

Marsha Lockard
University of Idaho Extension Educator-Owyhee County
P.O Box 400 (238 8th Avenue West)
Marsing, ID 83639
(208) 896-4104

2014 Update by:

Nancy M. Porter, Ph.D.
Extension Personal and Family Finance Consultant
University of Idaho
(864) 650-8289

Other credits:

Educational Communications,
University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences:
Editing: Marlene Fritz, Communications Specialist, Boise
Web Design: Jacob Peterson, Web Designer, Moscow

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