California Attorney General Shares Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has provided Californians with tips for avoiding identity theft and fraud in recognition of Identity Theft Awareness Week 2022.

Identity theft is where someone steals an individual’s personal data and uses the information to impersonate that individual in order to commit fraud, such as opening lines of credit in the victim’s name. As more people now rely on online services for work and personal reasons, there is even more sensitive data for cybercriminals to target. Identity theft is a serious problem. The Identity Theft Resource Center’s annual 2021 Annual Data Breach Report shows data compromises have reached an all-time high, with 2021 seeing a 23% increase from the previous record set in 2017, and 2021 seeing a 68% increase in data compromises from 2020. While there was a decrease in the number of victims of data compromises in 2021 – down 5% from the previous year – the decrease signifies a change in the tactics of cybercriminals, where they are increasingly targeting specific types of data that can be easily monetized, rather than mass data compromises that have been favored in previous years. The report also indicates the number of consumers that have had their data compromised multiple times “is alarmingly high.”

The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book shows the most frequent causes of complaints in 2021 were identity theft and imposter scams, and the FTC estimates around 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In an attempt to reduce the number of victims of identity theft and fraud, during Identity Theft Awareness Week, the FTC and its partners host a series of events to raise awareness of the threat of identity theft, teach best practices, and help consumers better protect themselves against fraud.

Attorney General Bonta also gave out some top tips for avoiding identity theft in recognition of Identity Theft Awareness Week. “Whether it is the result of a data breach, stolen wallet, or successful phishing attempt, identity theft can happen to anyone at any given time. That is why it is important to take the necessary steps to identify red flags and protect yourself,” said Attorney General Bonta. “This Identity Theft Awareness Week, I encourage Californians to keep a close watch over their personal information and take the necessary steps to help reduce the risk of identity theft.”

Top Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft

Protect Your SSN

One of the most important steps is to protect your Social Security number – A unique identifier for all Americans that, along with the individual’s name, could be used to open bank accounts and new lines of credit, rent an apartment, or fraudulently obtain employment. It is important to avoid providing an SSN if at all possible and to see if there is an alternative number that could be provided instead. SSNs should only be provided when absolutely necessary, such as for employment or for tax forms. You should also avoid carrying an SSN card in a wallet.

Watch Out for Phishing Attacks

The ITRC says one of the biggest increases in cyber threats is phishing, which is where cyber actors try to trick people into disclosing sensitive information often, but not always, via email. Trusted entities are impersonated such as banks, government agencies, and retailers, and social engineering techniques are used to trick people into disclosing sensitive information such as login credentials, financial information, and Social Security numbers. With tax season upon us, W-2 phishing attacks are common. This is where businesses are targeted using phishing emails and are tricked into disclosing W-2 forms, the data on which can be used to file fraudulent tax returns. These emails impersonate the CEO or another executive, with email addresses spoofed to make it appear that the emails have been sent internally.

Set Strong Passwords and Use a Password Manager

Most people have multiple online accounts and these need to be protected with a strong password. Weak passwords can be guessed in seconds, so it is important for passwords to be long and complex, and for a unique password to be set for each account. The minimum length of a password should be 8 characters, although longer is better. Try to set passwords of 10 or more characters and use a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters.

Long complex passwords are hard to remember, so Attorney General Bonta recommends using a password manager. These solutions can generate long and complex passwords, and store passwords securely in an encrypted vault. A unique password can then be set for each account, and the user only needs to create, set, and remember one complex password for their password vault. Some password managers can be used for free – Bitwarden has a good free password manager for example – with more features available for a small monthly charge.

Check Your Statements and Get Your Free Annual Credit Report

Vigilance is also key to preventing losses to identity theft and fraud. Get into the habit of checking credit card and bank statements carefully every week or at least every month and look for unexpected charges and withdrawals. If you see any suspicious entities, report them immediately, as fast reporting could prevent losses. It is also a good idea to obtain a free annual credit report and check it carefully for signs of identity theft and errors. A free annual report can be obtained from each of the three national credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Author: Richard Anderson

Richard Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief of