20 Tips to Help Prevent Identity Theft

By Eric Andring, Information Security Officer, Bell State Bank & Trust

This Month is National CyberSecurity Awareness Month

As part of our Cyber Security Awareness efforts, we wanted to remind customers about identity theft and how you can prevent it. Identity theft occurs when personal information, such as your Social Security number or banking information is taken without permission and is used to commit crimes or fraud. Identity theft can be carried out via phone, email or through fraudulent web sites.


  1. Keep your billing and banking statements and other personal records secured and shred them when no longer needed.
  2. Keep your confidential information to yourself. Never respond to phone calls or emails asking to confirm your personal information. Don’t leave PIN numbers, passwords or other personal information around for others to see.
  3. Practice secure postal mail practices. Use a public mailbox rather than your home mailbox to send payments and other mail containing sensitive information. Pick your mail up promptly and ask the post office to hold your mail while away.
  4. Review your bills and bank statements promptly. If you find any charges or debits that you didn’t make, contact your bank or the company immediately.
  5. Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card or other cards that have your Social Security number on them unless you are going somewhere where you will need them. Only provide your Social Security number when there is a legitimate need to do so.
  6. We recommend that you monitor your credit report for unauthorized activity. You are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. Request a report by visiting the official government site, www.annualcreditreport.com, or by calling 877.322.8228.


  1. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall on your computer and keep them updated.
  2. Ensure the website is secure when you provide financial or other sensitive information online. The website address should change from “http” to “https” or “shttp.” A lock symbol may also indicate that the website is safe.
  3. Be cautious with suspicious email messages received by deleting them because they could contain harmful software or links that could lead to the exploitation of your computer and your personal information.
  4. Stop –Think – Click (stop and think before you click the attachment or link).
  5. Spam or phishing emails may look like they are from someone you may recognize. If any of the information sent to you seems suspicious, it is a good idea to contact the sender directly for verification before opening any attachments or clicking on any links. If someone hasn’t sent you an email in a long period of time and suddenly sends you strange messages containing attachments or links, they may have a virus on their computer. Don’t open any attachments or click on any links from this sender. If you do, your computer and information could be at risk.
  6. Monitor your accounts online frequently. You can discover problems online much faster than if you wait for bills or statements to be delivered by mail.
  7. Never call a number provided within an email related to your personal information unless you are sure it is valid. Always verify the number with a source you already know and trust.
    Fraudsters can set up a temporary phone and may attempt to trick you into revealing personal information.

Some common email subjects that fraudsters use to “hook” victims within emails are:

  1. Failed Bank Transfer – contact the number below immediately or click on this like to “manage” your account.
  2. We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account.
  3. Your order was processed. Your bank account will be charged $###.##. (click on this link to view your order) This comes from a company that you didn’t order anything from.


For more information relating to cyber security and identity theft, the following websites are very helpful:

  1. The Federal Trade Commission sponsors a website called www.onguardonline.gov. This website provides practical tips from the federal government and the technology industry to help you be on guard against online fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information.
  2. Consumer Federation of America’s website contains helpful consumer protection tips including how to avoid identity theft. http://www.consumerfed.org/consumer-privacy/fraud
  3. The Department of Homeland Security, the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Anti-Phishing Working Group partner together to provide Cyber Security tips and best practices. http://stopthinkconnect.org
  4. The National Cyber Security Alliance sponsors a website called http://staysafeonline.org which provides safety tips for online personal or business activities.




2 Responses to this post...

  • Darlene Peterson on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Appreciate your article. One point that seems to be overlooked is the fact that a persons Medicare Card number is your social security number . Yes, I am able to not carry mine with me, but for my 95 year old mother who lives in another state and has many care takers this is not so easy. I would be encouraged to hear that the government is thinking about this situation .

  • jlarson on Nov 5, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    Thank you for your feedback, Darlene. We are unable to comment about the use of Social Security numbers with Medicare cards, as these cards are managed by the federal government. For more information or feedback opportunities, we recommend that you follow up with your local government office or visit http://www.medicare.gov.

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