Carnegie Mellon University

Identity Theft Protection

Last Updated: 03/22/2022

Most businesses and organizations have strong privacy policies which protect consumers personal information. When privacy is not a prime concern for businesses and consumers, it can lead to the unwanted exposure of information.  This exposure of information can lead to a potential data breach and the information can be used to commit identity theft. 

Identity theft occurs when someone uses a combination of another person's personally identifiable information (PII) such as full name, birthdate, Social Security number, driver's license number, credit card number or other types of identifying information to take on that person's identity in order to commit fraud or other crimes.

New (2021) IRS Identity Protection Pin (IP PIN)

Starting in 2021, you may voluntarily opt into the IP PIN program as a proactive way to protect yourself from tax-related identity theft. The IP PIN is a six-digit number that prevents someone else from filing a tax return using your Social Security number. The IP PIN is known only to you and the IRS and helps to verify your identity when you file your electronic or paper tax return. 

To view how to get an IP PIN please visit the IRS: Get An Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) webpage.

5 Ways to Help Protect Your Identity|Federal Trade Commission

Visit the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Warning Signs of Identity Theft for more information. Helps You Report and Recover from Identity Theft|Federal Trade Commission  

Prevent Identity Theft

Click the dropdowns below to view the ISO's 11 Tips for Identity Theft Protection

Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet.

If your health plan (other than Medicare) or another card uses your Social Security number, ask the company for a different number.

For more information, visit the Social Security website and read Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number.

Scam artists phish for victims by pretending to be legitimate financial institutions, government agencies, or other businesses. They do this over the phone, in emails, and through regular mail.  Do not give out your personal information or respond to any request to verify your account number or password - unless you made the contact.

The number displayed by your phone's Caller ID can be easily faked (often called vishing.)  Instead, ask for your case or ticket number and tell them you will call them back.  Then call the publicly listed number for the business and tell them you are calling in reference to the case or ticket number.

For more on phishing visit: Phishing-Don't Take the Bait.

Shred or tear up papers with personal information before you throw them away.

Shred credit card offers and convenience checks that you do not use.

When choosing passwords for your financial accounts, avoid using your mother's real maiden name, any other personal information you might have shared online or facts about you available through public records.  Instead substitute something more private when prompted for your mother's maiden name or request an alternate security question.

Federal laws require your bank and other financial service companies to tell you about their information sharing practices and give you the opportunity to opt out of having your personal financial information shared.


Protect your personal information on your computer.  Use strong passwords: with at least eight characters, including a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, easy for you to remember, but difficult for others to guess.

Review the following for tips on how to create strong passwords or using a password manager

Use a firewall, virus, and spyware protection software that you update regularly. Do not install any software without knowing what it is and how it will affect your device.

For step-by-step instructions on downloading anti-virus, see our Malware Protection guides.

When shopping online, check out a website before entering your credit card number or other personal information.  Read the privacy policy and look for opportunities to opt out of information sharing.  (If there is no privacy policy posted, beware! Shop elsewhere.) Consider using one credit card exclusively for online shopping.

Be sure the website is secure using 'https' with a padlock symbol in the address bar. These are signs that your information will be encrypted or scrambled, protecting it from malicious eavesdroppers. Scammers have gotten good at creating spoofed or lookalike webpages. In addition to checking for https, clicking the padlock will show the Digital Certificate which shows the actual website you're currently using. 

Be careful of clicking on links in email messages as they could install spyware on your device. To learn more on how to safely check URL's visit our Check the Full URL page.


Sign up for online access to your credit cards and bank accounts and carefully check them at least weekly for unauthorized charges or withdrawals.

If your credit card company or bank does not offer online access, then open your credit card bills and bank statements right away and carefully check for unauthorized charges or withdrawals.

Additionally, set up email and text alerts for your credit cards and bank accounts. These alerts will send you a notification when money is spent above a certain threshold or your account has been used without the card present.

Report any unauthorized charges or withdrawals immediately. Call if bills do not arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.


Scammers will search the Internet searching for any information they can find on their target. What you share on social networks such as your home address, children’s names, high school, birth date, pet names, and geotagged locations is what tech-savvy thieves use for scams, phishing, and account theft.

Don’t overshare. Limit posting any type of personal information that may expose you to identity theft. 

For more information on how to secure your privacy on social media visit our Social Media Privacy page.

Stop most pre-approved credit card offers.  They make a tempting target for identity thieves who steal your mail.

Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists by visiting or calling the toll free: 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).
Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction.

Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. Ask to see the companies privacy policy.

Explain that you are concerned about identity theft.  If you are not satisfied with the answers, consider going somewhere else.

One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to monitor your credit history.  You can get one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Request all three reports at once, or spread out your requests, ordering from a different bureau every four months.  (More comprehensive monitoring services from the credit bureaus cost from $44 to over $100 per year.)

Order your free annual credit reports by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-322-8228, or online at AnnualCreditReport.  Or you can mail in an order form.

Check your statements and look for suspicious activity such as new accounts you did not open or purchases you didn't make.

Additionally, if in the last 60 days you have been denied credit, housing or employment due to your credit rating or adverse action has been taken against your credit record, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act you may be entitled to a free credit report from the bureau used to make the decision or to which the adverse action was reported.  Contact the appropriate national credit bureau: EquifaxExperian or Trans Union.

If You Suspect Your Identity Has Been Compromised

Place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. You can place a fraud alert by asking one of the three nationwide credit bureaus (see Credit Card Bureau Contact Information above).

Fraud alerts can be placed on your credit report prior to becoming a victim of identity theft, such as if you lost your Social Security card or other personal information. The alert lasts one year, but can be renewed. For victims of identity theft, an extended fraud alert will protect your credit for seven years. Learn how to place a fraud alert by visiting Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Information under step 2.

For more information on how to replace lost or stolen identification card visit the Replace Your Vital Records webpage.

Consider putting a credit freeze on your account. Placing a credit freeze allows you to restrict access to your credit report making it difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Most creditors look at your credit report before opening a new account. But if you've frozen your credit report, creditors can't access it, and probably won't approve fraudulent applications. You will need to ask for the credit freeze to be lifted before applying for new credit or doing business that may rely on someone checking your credit.  You can place a freeze on your own credit files and on those of your children age 16 or younger. For more information refer to Federal Trade Commission: Credit Freeze FAQS.

Report identity theft to the federal government online or by phone. Visit the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft webpage to report identity theft and get a recovery plan. Create an account to update your recovery plan, track your progress, and receive prefilled form letters to send to creditors. This website provides additional resources and guides for identity theft victims. You can also call to file a report at 1-877-438-433 but you will not receive an ID theft report or recovery plan.

Complete the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039. The form can be completed online on the FTC Identity Theft or you can download Form 14039 in PDF format for electronic filing.

 Report the identity theft to the police.  You  should report the fraud to your local police station if  you know the identity thief, the thief used your name in an interaction with the police, or a creditor or another company requires you to provide a police report. This will allow you to send a copy of the Identity Theft Report to creditors that require evidence that you allege a crime has occurred.

Report the identity theft to other organizations. Aside from reporting the fraud to one of the three major credit reporting agencies, you will want to contact your financial institution's fraud departments as well any retailers or companies where the thief opened an account.