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Identity Theft

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

 

How do thieves steal an identity?

Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information.

Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your 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 steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
  • Pretexting.  They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.  For more information about pretexting, click here.

How can you find out if your identity was stolen?

The best way to find out is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and check your credit report on a regular basis. If you check your credit report regularly, you may be able to limit the damage caused by identity theft. For more information, visit the Detect Identity Theft section.

What should you do if your identity is stolen?

Filing a police report, checking your credit reports, notifying creditors, and disputing any unauthorized transactions are some of the steps you must take immediately to restore your good name. To learn more about these steps and more, visit the DEFEND:  Recover from Identity Theft section. To file a complaint, click here.

 

What can you do to help fight identity theft? 

A great deal!

Awareness is an effective weapon against many forms identity theft. Be aware of how information is stolen and what you can do to protect yours, monitor your personal information to uncover any problems quickly, and know what to do when you suspect your identity has been stolen.  Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information.

  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Donít 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.
  • Donít give out personal information on 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; keep them up-to-date. Visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
  • Donít use an obvious password like your birth date, your motherís 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.

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 financial statements. Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make. 
  • 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 to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it.  Consumers can also obtain a copy of their credit report from the following companies:

 

Equifax Credit Information Services

P. O. Box 740241

Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Phone: To request a credit report: 800-685-1111 Option 4

To report fraud: 800-525-6285

Web site: www.equifax.com

 

Experian

P. O. Box 2104

Allen, TX 75013

Phone: (888) 397-3742

Web site: www.experian.com

 

TransUnion Corporation

P. O. Box 1000

Chester, PA 19022

Phone: To request a credit report: 800-916-8800

To report fraud: 800-680-7289

Web site: www.transunion.com

 

Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com  or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies, to order your free credit reports each year. You also can write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

   

Armed with the knowledge of how to protect yourself and take action, you can make identity thieves' jobs much more difficult. You can also help fight identity theft by educating your friends, family, and members of your community. The FTC has prepared a collection of easy-to-use materials to enable anyone regardless of existing knowledge about identity theft to inform others about this serious crime. To learn more, click here.

If you feel you are a victim of identity theft, contact anyone that you have a financial relationship with, including banks and credit card companies, and the police.  Keep a written record of everything related to the incident and all people/companies you contact.  You can also contact the following agencies:

Federal Trade Commission
Identity Theft Clearing House

Hotline: 877-438-4338

IDD: 202-326-2502

Website: www.consumer.gov/idtheft/

Social Security Administration

Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271

The Federal Trade Commission has an identity theft hotline 877-438-4338 and a website www.ftc.gov that is a very useful tool for consumers.