Identity Theft: What You Need to Know

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Rebecca Harpster
Golden Gate Better Business Bureau

Identity theft is the unauthorized use of another’s identity to commit crimes or for financial gain, like opening accounts, filing taxes, or making purchases. Unfortunately, it can happen to anyone.

In 2017, it was the second most reported complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), with more than 370,000 reports from consumers nationwide (up from the #3 spot in 2016).

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to mitigate your risk. According to the FTC, it’s important to “shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer.”

If you don’t own a shredder, your Better Business Bureau (BBB) is here to help! Join BBB at Concord City Hall on April 21 from 10am–2pm for BBB’s bi-annual “Secure Your ID Day”, a free shedding event. Bring up to five boxes of documents and watch Ripcord Digital, a BBB Accredited Business, shred them on-site.

Worried that your identity has been compromised? Be on the lookout for these clues that someone has stolen your information, from the FTC: unexplained bank account withdrawals; missing bills or other mail; calls from debt collectors about debts that aren’t yours; unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report; medical bills for services you didn’t use; health plan inaccuracies; notices from the IRS that don’t apply to you; and notices that your information was compromised by a data breach.

If any of these warning signs apply to you, don’t panic. Visit, the U.S. federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims. You just have to answer a few questions about your situation, and you’ll receive a personalized recovery plan. It includes streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.

To further protect yourself against identity theft, secure your information offline with these tips from your BBB:

  • Limit what you carry. When out and about, only take what you need – leave your Social Security card behind. Lock up financial documents, records, and anything containing sensitive personal information in a safe in your home. Lock up your purse or wallet while at work as well.
  • Keep an eye on your mail. Use a secure, locked mailbox if possible. If you don’t have a locked mailbox, take sensitive outgoing mail to the post office or to a post office box and pick up incoming mail as soon as possible. Only order new checks to your home if you have a secure mailbox.
  • Don’t overshare. The FTC recommends that “before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child’s school, or a doctor’s office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.” This is especially true for your Social Security Number (SSN). Ask if you can use a different kind of identification, although sometimes you will have to share your SSN. Be careful sharing health plan information and destroy the labels on prescriptions bottles before throwing them out.

You can reach your BBB at or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting