Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. While it’s impossible to guard your personal information absolutely, you can take a number of steps to protect yourself. Below, you’ll find more information on the causes and complications of identity theft, and some steps you can take to combat it:
- What is identity theft?
- How does identity theft occur?
- What can I do to protect myself from identity theft?
- What should I do if I believe I’m the victim of identity theft?
- Where can I go for more information?
What is Identity Theft?
Identify theft is the use of an individual’s personal and/or financial information to make purchases, apply for credit, or otherwise commit fraud. One of the most common types of identity theft is to use someone’s information to open a credit card account.
How Does Identity Theft Occur?
There is no one way that personal and/or financial information is always stolen. Thieves steal information from wallets or purses, vehicles, the mail, the Internet, or even the trash.
What Can I Do to Protect Myself from Identity Theft?
The single most important thing you can do to prevent identity theft is to check your credit report regularly (probably at least twice a year). You can obtain your credit report from one or all of the three major credit-reporting agencies for free once every 12 months and for a small fee thereafter. The sooner you know about a case of fraud in your name, the better your odds of clearly up the situation quickly and with the least amount of damage.
Free Annual Credit Report
Experian: (888) 397-3742
Equifax: (800) 685-1111
Credit monitoring services alert you when there are critical changes to your credit report.
After you’ve checked your credit, consider these other identity protection tips:
- Do not give out personal financial information on the phone, especially your Social Security number, unless you initiated the call and know with whom you’re speaking.
- Report lost or stolen checks and credit cards immediately.
- Review new deliveries of checks and credit cards immediately.
- Store new and cleared checks in a safe place
- Do not give your ATM personal identification number (PIN) to anyone.
- Properly dispose of financial information, including financial solicitations received by mail, by shredding or tearing them up.
- Study your bills carefully and question any suspicious charges immediately.
- Contact any of the three major credit reporting agencies listed above and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit file.
Note: Fraud alerts provide notice to potential creditors that the person has been a potential victim of identity theft. The member only needs to notify one of the bureaus, which then notifies the other two credit bureaus. In addition, the member can place a victim statement on their credit profile, requesting creditors to contact the victim at a specific phone number prior to granting new credit. After a victim places a fraud alert with the credit bureau, a free copy of their credit report will be sent to the victim by each credit bureau. The victim should review their credit reports for any signs of unauthorized activity.
- Next, cancel any account (credit, checking, etc.) that you know has been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- Contact your local police department and begin the process of filing a police report.
- Document all your correspondence with credit agencies, banks, and police departments. The better records you keep, the easier the process will be.
- File a compliant with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC tracks consumer complaints of identity fraud and maintains a database of investigations (contact information below).
Where Can I Go For More Information?
The Federal Trade Commission provides extensive information about identity theft, call (877) ID-THEFT or go to www.consumer.gov/idtheft .
Or visit the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov .