Don't give a thief a gift this holiday season

Dec. 21, 2009

By Vicky Watkins
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Tulsa, Okla.

It’s been said that the true spirit of the holiday season is in giving, not receiving. With that in mind, it’s likely you spent a bit of time shopping for presents, with your credit card flying out of your wallet like windblown snow.

But as you shop in stores and online, be sure you don’t give a surprise gift to an identity thief, because the surprise will be on you — and it won’t be a good one.

Sometimes when you do business, you may be asked for your Social Security number. In many cases, those asking don’t really need it. If people ask for your Social Security number or other identifying information, ask them why they want it and whether they absolutely need it. They can refuse you service if you don’t provide it, but consider whether the service is worth the risk.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. Someone who steals your Social Security number can use it to get other personal information about you. Identity thieves can use your number to apply for more credit in your name. They then use the credit cards but leave the bills for you. Falling victim to identity theft can ruin your credit rating and make things difficult for years to come.

Identity thieves can obtain your Social Security number, credit card numbers, and personal information in a number of ways, including:
• Stealing wallets, purses, or mail
• Intercepting personal information you provide on an unsecured Web site, from business or personnel records at work, and personal information in your home
• Rummaging through your trash and public trash dumps for personal information
• Posing as someone who needs your information, such as a government agency, employer, bank, or landlord
• Buying personal information from store clerks, employees, or other individuals who have the information

There are things you can do to protect your identity. Don’t give your Social Security number to just anyone. Don’t carry your card in your wallet or purse. Keep your Social Security card locked away in a safe place with your other important papers. Check your credit reports once a year, which you can do for free at

Want to learn more? Read our online fact sheet, Identity Theft And Your Social Security Number, at

If you think someone is using your number or identity, contact the Federal Trade Commission at, or call 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338) (TTY 1-866-653-4261).

Protect your information this holiday season, and you’ll enjoy a little more “peace on earth” in the year to come.