Protecting Your Information

Your Personal Information is Valuable

New technologies are frequently unveiled with the intent of making our everyday lives more enjoyable, or easier to manage. Unfortunately, as these new technologies become more sophisticated so too are the criminals who use these technologies to steal your personal identity to commit fraud.

Identity thieves need only a few pieces of your puzzle to begin destroying your finances. Some examples of "personal information" that an identity thief is typically looking for may include: Name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, Driver's License number, mother's maiden name, account numbers, credit/debit card expiration dates, internet passwords, Personal Identification Numbers (PIN), User IDs for online account access, security codes from the back of credit/debit cards, just to name a few key pieces of information.

This information can be obtained by any number of means; Mail theft, "dumpster diving" through your trash, skimming information from the magnetic strip on a credit/debit card, news stories or obituaries, breach of electronic data or computer systems, looking over your shoulder when you are entering a PIN/password, or simply the loss or theft of your wallet, purse, or credit card.

Once an identity thief has the information they require they may complete unauthorized transactions on existing accounts, take over on your existing accounts, or create new accounts. These accounts are usually financially related, such as a banking, checking, credit/debit, or perhaps even a web based account.

So what are some common "tip-off's" that you may be a victim of identity theft? A financial institution may call if a transaction seems out of the ordinary. You may see unauthorized charges on a credit card or checking account statement. You may find an account that you did not open on your credit report. Or, you may receive a call from a collection agency asking why you have not paid a bill, just to name a few possible scenarios.

The information contained within this document has been designed to provide you with some basic information on how to minimize your exposure to identity theft, what to do if you believe you may be a victim, as well as some additional resources for further assistance.

Tips for Safer Computing

Enable Your Built-In Firewall

A firewall is like a sentry, watching for sources from the Internet attempting to access your computer and blocking the sources you do not authorize. Consider obtaining a separate software firewall if your operating system does not include a firewall, or if you would prefer more functionality.

To watch a video on how to enable your built-in firewall for both Windows and Macintosh, go to "Get Net Wise's" web site.

Install, Update, and Run Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware Software

A virus is an unwanted program deliberately developed to interfere, attack and possibly gain access to you computer. Anti-virus software helps protect your computer from viruses. Spyware is often associated with software displaying advertisements (called adware) or tracking personal information without your knowledge or permission. Anti-spyware software helps protect your computer from a malicious spyware.

Consider protecting your computer using freeware anti-virus software, for personal use only, at (no university endorsement)

Consider protecting your computer using freeware anti-spyware software, for personal use only, at (no university endorsement)

Use Strong Passwords

Use strong passwords containing uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Be creative, do not use words found in any dictionary. Do not use simple or predictable passwords such as names of people and pets or any personal information (i.e. birthday, campus ID, etc.)

Change your passwords on a regular basis and never share your Log-in ID and/or password. Remember, you are responsible for any activities associated with your log-in and password!

For guidance in designing passwords, visit CSULB's Information Security web site.

Update Your Operating System and Applications

Security vulnerabilities continue to be announced. For better security, keep your computer protected through automatic updates of critical updates and security patches.

For Window's Operating System, learn how to automatically set Windows updates at

For Macintosh OS X, learn how to use the Software Update Tool

Use Care When Opening Email Attachments

A common way to spread a virus is through email attachments. Email can "appear" to come from someone you know.

  • Never send personal information (login ID, password, Social Security, etc.) via email.
  • Do not open any attachment unless you know whom it's from and are expecting it.
  • Delete any email messages with attachments received from someone you do not know.

Ignore and Delete Spam

Spam is the electronic version of "junk mail." It is unsolicited and unwanted email messages that could lead to ID theft.

  • Never reply to spam.
  • Do not buy anything or give to any charity promoted through spam.
  • Do not forward chain email messages.
  • Use spam filters to block unwanted email.

Beware of "Phishy" Emails or Pop-ups

"Phishing" is a phrase used to describe spam/junk emails and pop-up advertisements that have been designed to obtain you personal information. Identity thieves who use this medium may mimic Financial institutions, Government agencies, Computer software companies, e-Commerce sites, or other legitimate organizations.

Identity thieves may use Phishing to ask you to visit a website to verify or enter your personal information. The email or pop-up may contain a link that takes you to a web site that looks just like your banks or another mainstream market place in an attempt to fraudulently obtain your personal information.

Avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:

  • Do not reply to the email or pop-up messages.
  • Do not click on the links in the messages.
  • Do not email personal or financial information.
  • Do not enter personal or financial information in a pop-up.

Use Caution with Downloads

Many free downloads are available, but they may also contain malicious applications which can harm your computer. Only you can decide which programs are worth the risk of downloading and installing on you computer.

Be careful not to download or share copyrighted material that may be in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (United States copyright law).

Be aware many file sharing programs, such as Kazaa or Gnutella may share your personal information stored on your computer.

Prevent Data Loss; Backup Your Important Files

Copy important files stored on your computer onto a removable disc or flash drive and store them in a secure place.

Protect Your Privacy

Live by S.C.A.M., to Beat ID Thieves at Their Scams!

S.C.A.M. is an anachronism to help you remember to be STINGY, CHECK, ASK and MAINTAIN when it comes to your personal information and finances.

Be STINGY when giving out your personal information to others. Start by adopting a "need to know" approach. Be wary of giving information to anyone over the phone or internet unless you initiate the contact. Remember that your bank or credit card issuers already have all of your information they will need and they will not phone or email you to ask to provide or confirm your information. Protect your U.S. mail – send and receive it safely. Do not keep information in your purse or wallet that you don't need, especially your Social Security Number, PINs, or passwords!

CHECK your financial information regularly. Make sure you receive your monthly account statements when expected. Electronic statements should be viewed by visiting the financial institutions web site directly, and not by following a link from within an email. Review your monthly account statements for unauthorized withdrawals or charges. Do not skim your statements! This is your opportunity to catch an identity thief early and before too much damage may have been caused!

ASK questions! Ask or read how vendors will protect and use your personal information. Ask for a copy of your credit report. These reports are free and can be easy to obtain. Contact for a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (aka "credit bureaus"), or stagger your request from each bureau throughout the year. Look for accounts that may have been opened in your name without your knowledge. Locate unexpected delinquencies on established accounts.

MAINTAIN careful records of your banking and financial accounts! Do not leave financial or other sensitive records lying around your desk or in your home for prying eyes to see. Do not leave credit or debit card receipts at the ATM, gas pump, or anywhere else. Do not keep PINs with your credit, debit, or ATM cards. Keep your identity from getting trashed! Cross-cut shred personal records or get rid of them as effectively as possible. Stop pre-approved credit card offers and have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call (888) 5OPTOUT.

What to do if you are a victim

For detailed information, see Protecting Your Credit and ID Theft Checklist. But generally speaking, a victim should:

  • contact the financial institutions or the companies where the information about you has been misused and let them know that you are a victim of Identity Theft
  • contact any one of the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to report your suspicions about Identity Theft, and request a fraud alert
  • contact your local police department to report the crime, and get a copy of your police report; and
  • contact the Federal Trade Commission for step-by-step assistance with your Identity Theft at

Always keep records of all of your communications, phone or otherwise, and follow up in writing by certified mail return receipt.

Additional Resources

    • provides practical tips from the federal government and the technology industry to help you be on guard against Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information.
    • The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) site provides steps on how to minimize your risk and damage should you become a victim of Identity Theft by utilizing their "Deter, Detect, & Defend" practices.
    • The Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) is the global pan-industrial and law enforcement association focused on eliminating the fraud and identity theft that result from phishing, pharming and email spoofing of all types.
    • Visit the Anti-Phishing Working Group for daily updates on the latest in on-line fraud.
    • A nonprofit, nationally respected program dedicated exclusively to identity theft. It provides consumer and victim support and advises governmental agencies, legislators and companies about this evolving and growing crime.
    • The Internal Revenue Service site to assist those who may have become victim of Identity Theft as a result filing their taxes.
    • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service site provides information on mail theft, false change of address, and additional resources relating to consumer fraud. Free DVD's on several identity theft and fraud topics can be ordered and delivered direct.
    • Social Security Administrations site discusses Identity Theft and your Social Security Number.
    • The Better Business Bureau website where you may find information on how to best work with businesses when you have become a victim of identity theft.
    • The National Consumers League site provides similar information to the FTC's site but emphasizes the methods of avoiding electronic Identity Theft.
    • Also consider CNET's article "Keep your Kids Safe Online"
    • An interactive site designed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Boys & Girls Clubs of America to educate kids and teens on how to stay safe on the internet, Parents, guardians, educators and law enforcement have access to resources for learning and teaching about the dangers children may face on-line.
    • Governors and/or first spouses formed a coalition to bring this interactive site on-line to educate kids on use of the internet and provide parents with information and activities to share with their kids.