Identity theft is a crime in which key pieces of a victim's personal information, such as Social Security and credit card numbers, are stolen and illegally used by others.
How Is Identity Stolen?
Identity thieves use a variety of means to steal personal information including hacking into large computer databases that contain Social Security numbers, using spyware to intercept confidential business communications from individual computers, stealing paycheck stubs or credit card receipts from the garbage, or tricking unsuspecting individuals into disclosing private information over the telephone or online.
Northwestern University will never ask for your NetID password.
Protecting Identity Online
- Protect your computer from hackers and spyware. Malicious software is often aimed at getting private and confidential information. Follow Tips for Safe Browsing to guard against threats online.
- Avoid phishing scams. Never reply to an e-mail, telephone call, or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information. Identity thieves use phishing to impersonate banks, online retailers, or credit card companies, and use fraudulent e-mails, Web sites, or telephone calls to fool recipients into divulging personal financial data such as credit card numbers, account passwords, and Social Security numbers. If you receive a request for information that you suspect might be a phishing attempt, find verified contact information for the company and contact them directly.
- Never post personal information on Web sites or in chat rooms and limit the amount of information you enter in online registration forms. Logging into an Internet chat room or filling out an online registration form may seem safe and private--but it isn't. It can make you a target for identity theft, stalking, or harassment.
- Never use e-mail or unsecured instant messaging (IM) to transmit confidential information. E-mail and free IM communications are easily intercepted and are not secure methods of transmitting personal information.
Other Tips for Protecting Identity
- Avoid giving your Social Security number and other personal information, such as birthdates, except when absolutely necessary. If a company requests your personal information, ask why. By law, individuals have the right to refuse to disclose this type of information.
- Dispose of confidential information properly. Shred important documents before you put them in the garbage. Dispose of materials in electronic formats (on CD or computer) so the information cannot be retrieved by others.
- Check your credit reports regularly for signs of fraudulent activity. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) requires that each of the three consumer credit reporting companies (Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax) provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months for this purpose. Visit annualcreditreport.com for more information.
Steps to Take If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
- File a report with the local police department. To report incidents on campus, call University Police (UP) at extension 456 from any campus phone. From outside the University, call UP at (847) 491-3456 (Evanston) or (312) 503-3456 (Chicago).
- Visit the FTC's Identity Theft Web site to get information about contacting credit bureaus, closing accounts, and filing complaints.
Privacy and the NU Network
It is the policy of Northwestern to treat all transmissions over the NU Network as private; however, the confidentiality of these transmissions is not guaranteed.
All users of Northwestern University computing and network resources must be aware that privacy of electronic communication such as e-mail and/or stored data files may be routinely compromised by University computer systems or processes that unintentionally preserve portions of information on the NU Network. In addition, University network resources may be compromised by individuals who intentionally try to gain access to vulnerable machines for malicious purposes. For these reasons, users must act responsibly to protect personal and University-related confidential information.
Members of the NU community may want to limit viewing of their online directory information from off-campus. Faculty, staff, and students may edit their records so the "off-campus" field is set to "no," or "partial" to limit the amount of information that is available to the public. For more information, visit Online Directory Services.
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Last Updated: 23 March 2010