What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a serious crime. It occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft can cost you time and money. It can destroy your credit and ruin your good name.
Common ways ID Theft happens
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal your personal information, including:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a “change of address” form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses, mail (including bank and credit card statements), pre-approved credit offers, and new checks or tax information. They can also steal personnel records from employers or bribe employees who have access to them.
How to protect yourself
Step 1: Safeguard your information
- Shred financial documents and papers containing personal information before you discard them including pre-approved credit card applications and credit card receipt bills.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
- Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Remove mail from your mailbox promptly.
- Don’t give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. Instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer – and keep them up-to-date. Use one credit card for all of your online purchases.
- Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having work done in your house.
Step 2: Monitor your financial accounts and billing statements
Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make. Be alert to signs that require immediate attention:
- Bills that do not arrive as expected
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason
- Calls or letters about purchases you did not make
Inspect your credit report. Credit reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history.
The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it. Annual Credit Report Request Service is a service created by these three companies.
To order your free credit report(s) each year you can either call, write or request them online.
Write: Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
What to do if you’re a victim
Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert. A call to one company is sufficient.
Call any company listed below to issue a fraud alert with all three agencies.
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Placing a fraud alert also entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain.
Close accounts. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
- Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your approval. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
- Use the ID Theft Affidavit at www.ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
- Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
- Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
File a police report. File a report with law enforcement officials to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.
By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580
To learn more about ID theft visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft or request copies of ID theft resources by writing to:
Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, H-130
Washington, DC 20580