What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft involves acquiring key pieces of someone’s identifying information in order to impersonate them. All a thief needs to steal an identity is your name, address, social security number, and date of birth. This information is easily obtained from drivers’ licenses and/or checking accounts. With this information, the thief is then able to commit numerous forms of fraud which include taking over the victim’s financial accounts, opening new bank accounts, purchasing automobiles, renting apartments, establishing services with utility and phone companies, and applying for loans, credit cards, and social security benefits.
Protect Your Identity.
While you probably can’t prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft:
- Tear up or shred all old and unused checks and credit cards. This includes any applications you receive in the mail that you do not want to keep.
- Minimize identifying information on personal checks. Consider using debit cards when possible. Remember to sign the back of your debit card (and credit cards) before someone else does!
- Use a computer-generated driver’s license number instead of your social security number (SSN). Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.
- Don’t carry your social security card; leave it in a secured place.
- Be cautious about where you leave your personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates.
- Don’t leave your purse or wallets unattended, whether it is in a shopping cart or an unlocked vehicle. Most thefts of checks and credit cards are crimes of opportunity.
- Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact or know whom you’re dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers, and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother’s maiden name, financial account numbers and other identifying information. Legitimate organizations with which you do business have the information they need and will not ask you for it.
- Carefully select and closely guard your passwords. Your mother’s maiden name is not a protected password. Identity thieves can easily obtain a maiden name from a birth certificate, which is a public record. Do not use your phone number, address, date of birth, or last four numbers of your SSN.
- Guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Do not leave mail in your mailbox overnight or over the weekends. If you are going to be away from home or cannot pick up your mail, call the US Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
- Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit-reporting agencies every year. Make sure it is accurate and only includes those activities you have authorized. You can order free credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months. You can do this on-line at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Consider using Identity Theft Protection Services
If You Are the Victim of Identity Theft:
- Immediately report the fraud to the three major credit bureaus. Have them flag your file with a “fraud alert,” and add a victim’s statement to the report. Also ask for a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. They can be obtained by calling:
1. Equifax, 1-800-685-1111
2. Experian, 1-800-787-6864
3. Trans Union, 1-800-916-8800
- Make a police report. Give the police as much information on the theft as possible: How the fraud was discovered, activity to date of fraud (in chronological order), affected accounts and losses, and any information about how the thief got your personal information.
- Call all of your creditors. Inform them you are a victim of Identity Theft. Have them close your accounts and find out if you will be held responsible for the charges. Request information on all of the fraudulent accounts be sent to you for your files, so you can copy them for the police investigation.
- Review your credit reports carefully. Look for changes in old accounts and look for newly opened accounts. Check your name, address and SSN for any changes. Have the credit agencies remove all information in your credit report that results from the theft. Order new credit reports every three months until your situation is cleared up.
- Obtain and use an ID Theft Affidavit. The form is available on the Federal Trade Commission’s website: www.ftc.gov/idtheft
- Continue to review your bills carefully and report any new fraudulent charges to the creditor. Remember to give the creditors the police report number and send them an ID Theft Affidavit.