What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone acquires your Social Security number, credit card number, bank account number, or other personal identifying information and uses that information to commit fraud or other crimes.
How Can Your Identity Be Stolen
Identity thieves acquire your personal identifying information in many ways. Some computer-savvy criminals exploit opportunities created by the Internet. Others access public records, employ trickery, or steal business information. Still others rely on old-fashioned methods, like mail theft, stealing wallets and purses, and rummaging through trash.
Examples of how identity thieves get your personal information:
- They steal wallets and purses containing your identification, credit cards, and bank debit cards.
- They steal your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, and tax information.
- They complete a change of address form to divert your mail to another location.
- They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data in a practice known as dumpster diving.
- They fraudulently obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legitimate need for, and legal right to, the information.
- They find personal information in your home.
- They use personal information you share on the Internet.
- They scam you, often through email, by posing as legitimate companies or government agencies you do business with.
- They get your information from the workplace in a practice known as business record theft by: stealing files out of offices where you’re a customer, employee, patient or student; bribing an employee who has access to your files; or hacking into electronic files.
How You Can Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
These basic guidelines will make it more difficult for fraud artists to target you:
- Be careful disclosing information to strangers via the Internet, telephone, applications or through the mail.
- Be especially cautious when sharing information over the Internet. Make sure Web sites have a closed padlock icon in the lower right corner of the screen before submitting data.
- Understand how your information will be used before sharing it with merchants and others. Know if you have a choice about how it is used.
- Do not share personal information through Internet chat rooms.
- Install firewall and anti-virus software on your home computer.
- Avoid using obvious passwords and personal identification numbers on your computers and credit/debit cards.
- Use a separate credit card for online transactions.
- Have checks printed by a reputable check printer that uses paper stock embedded with security features that exceed industry guidelines.
- Don’t include your Social Security number, driver’s license number or other unnecessary information on checks.
- Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus at least once a year.
- Shred or destroy credit card offers, credit card checks and other documents that contain personal information.
- Don’t leave sensitive mail in your mailbox.
- Remove credit card numbers from receipts submitted for rebate offers.
- Photocopy both sides of all credit cards and store copies in a safe place.
- Don’t leave personal information lying around your house.
- Carry only the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you’ll actually need.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his or her tracks.
- Be wary of promotional scams. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.
- Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card or birth certificate.
- Opt out of unsolicited credit card offers and junk mail. You can choose a five-year opt-out period or a permanent opt-out status by going to https://www.optoutprescreen.com and following the instructions for opting out.
What You Should Do if You Become a Victim of Identity Theft
Below is a summary of steps to take. IdentityTheft.gov is a great resource that offers step-by-step checklists of what to do right away and what to do next, depending on the information that’s been stolen or exposed.
The moment you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, take the following steps:
- Contact all affected credit card issuers, financial institutions, telephone service providers and any other organizations that you have relationships with.
- File a report with your local law enforcement agency, or the one where the crime occurred. Get a copy of the police report.
- Contact the fraud department at any one of the credit bureaus. Whichever bureau you contact will notify the other two.
- Ask that a fraud alert and victim’s statement be placed on your account file and request a copy of your credit report.
- Review your credit report(s) carefully for fraudulent activity. After four months, order copies of your reports again and repeat the review process.
- Immediately alert financial institutions, credit card issuers or any other organization if there is new fraudulent activity occurring.
- If the crime involved theft from the mail, contact your local Postal Inspection Office.
- Call the Federal Trade Commission identity theft hotline to file a report at 1-877-438-4338. Consult the FTC’s website for additional steps to be taken in the event you are a victim of identity theft.
Important Contact Numbers
|Order a Credit Report:||1.800.685.1111||1.888.397.3742||1.800.916.8800|
Federal Trade Commission:
|ID Theft Hotline:||1.877.IDTHEFT (1.877.438.4338)|
Free Annual Credit Report:
|www.annualcreditreport.com or 1-877-322-8228|
Tips For Filling a Police Report
- Provide documentation. Furnish as much documentation as you can to prove your case. Debt collection letters, credit reports, your notarized ID Theft Affidavit from the FTC’s website, and other evidence of fraudulent activity can help the police file a complete report.
- Be persistent. Local authorities may tell you that they can’t take a report. Stress the importance of a police report; many creditors require one to resolve your dispute. Also remind them that under their voluntary Police Report Initiative, credit bureaus will automatically block the fraudulent accounts and bad debts from appearing on your credit report, but only if you can give them a copy of the police report. If you can’t get the local police to take a report, try your county police. If that doesn’t work, try your state police. If you’re told that identity theft is not a crime under your state law, ask to file a Miscellaneous Incident Report instead.
- Be a motivating force. Ask your police department to search the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database for other complaints in your community. You may not be the first or only victim of this identity thief. If there is a pattern of cases, local authorities may give your case more consideration.
Proving You are a Victim
Getting the right documents and getting them to the right people is key.
- The Police Report: If you have a police report, send a copy to Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. They will block the information you’re disputing from your credit reports. This may take up to 30 days. The credit bureaus have the right to remove the block, if they believe it was wrongly placed. Contact the credit bureaus to find out more about how the Police Report Initiative works.
- The ID Theft Affidavit: The FTC, in conjunction with banks, credit grantors and consumer advocates, developed the ID Theft Affidavit to help you close unauthorized accounts and get rid of debts wrongfully attributed to your name. If you don’t have a police report or any paperwork from creditors, send the completed and notarized ID Theft Affidavit to the three major credit bureaus. They will use it to start the dispute investigation process. Not all companies accept the ID Theft Affidavit. They may require you to use their forms instead. Check first and complete the required paperwork as soon as possible.
- Creditor Documentation: Creditors’ policies on confidentiality and record keeping vary and may prevent you from getting the paperwork you need to prove you didn’t make the transaction. On the upside, most victims can get accounts closed and debts dismissed by completing the creditor’s fraud paperwork or the ID Theft Affidavit and including a copy of your police report. Insist on a letter from the creditor stating that they have closed the disputed accounts and have discharged you of the fraudulent debts. This letter is your best defense if errors reappear or your personal information gets re-circulated. This letter is also the best document to give credit bureaus and debt collectors if your police report and ID Theft Affidavit aren’t enough to resolve your problems with them.