What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when a person "steals" your name, social security number, or other personal information and then misuses that information to open new accounts, charge expenses or conduct other fraudulent activities in your name.
How does identity theft happen?
Identity thieves use a number of methods to obtain your personal information, including: stealing wallets and purses, stealing mail or submitting a change of address form in order to divert mail to another address, digging in trash receptacles, using computer and telephone scams to induce consumers to provide personal information, accessing personal information through computer systems to which the thief has access, posing as a loan officer and ordering a copy of your credit report and "shoulder surfing" at ATMs to obtain personal identification numbers and account information.
What are the costs?
Identity theft is expensive and time consuming. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) an estimated 9.9 million people were victims of identity theft in the past year. According to the FTC identity theft costs Americans $5 billion per year. Victims spend, on average, 30 hours resolving problems associated with the theft and some may spend months, even years, cleaning up the mess, according to the FTC.
How do you prevent theft of your own identity?
- Keep your wallet in a safe place at work, such as in a locked drawer or cabinet.
- Don't carry your social security card or birth certificate in your wallet or purse.
- Don't provide your social security number unless it is absolutely necessary (Ask why the person needs it and whether you may provide a different identifier).
- Carry only the credit cards that you need.
- When ordering checks, don't put your driver's license or social security number on them.
- Don't use the same personal identification number (PIN) for all accounts.
- Avoid using PIN numbers and passwords that are easily detectable (your birth date, phone number, ZIP code, mother's maiden name). Use a combination of letters and numbers.
- Keep all credit or debit card PIN numbers separate from the cards.
- Change PIN and passwords frequently.
- Don't give your credit card information over the phone unless you initiated the call or are certain that the transaction is legitimate and secure.
- Shred any credit card receipts or statements containing account numbers and information before throwing them away.
- Keep a list of all credit and debit accounts, account numbers and PINS. Place the list in a secure location.
- Shred all pre-approved credit card offers.
- Order a credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) annually to make sure the information is accurate.
- Consider writing "See ID" on the back of your credit cards rather than signing them.
- Don't place outgoing mail in your home mailbox. Place it in a secure, postal service collection box.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles and, if you notice that a bill has not arrived on time, contact the company to determine whether a bill was sent and determine if your mail has been diverted by an identity thief.
- Closely review your credit card statements for any unusual or unauthorized charges.
- Be aware of phishing, which is a high-tech scam that uses spam or pop-up messages to deceive you into disclosing your credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords, or other confidential information
What do you do if you're a victim of identity theft?
File a report with local police. Credit card companies, banks and other vendors may require a police report as proof that your identity was stolen. Retain several copes of the report and make note of your report number.
If you discover that someone has opened an account (credit, phone service, etc.) in your name, immediately contact the company or bank that provided service or extended credit in your name and inform them of the theft.
- Change all PIN numbers and passwords.
- Visit the FTC Web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft and fill out the universal affidavit to submit to creditors.
- Contact the FTC directly for assistance. Call the toll-free hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT or fill out a report online at www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm.
- If you're social security number was used inappropriately, contact the Social Security Administration's fraud hotline at 800-269-0721.
- If the thief uses your health insurance information without authorization, contact your insurer and inform them of the inappropriate use. Follow up with a letter documenting the situation and request that the insurer issue a new policy number.
- In the case of stolen or misdirected mail, contact the U.S. Postal Service at 800-275-8777 to obtain the number of your local U.S. Postal Inspector.
- If the thief has used your driver's license number to write bad checks, contact Driver and Vehicle Services. You may need to obtain a new driver's license number and card.
- Contact all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) immediately. You must contact all three because they do not necessarily share information. Order copies of your credit report from each bureau and ask each of them to place a fraud alert on your account. Once a fraud alert is in place, the credit bureaus will not process credit applications without first obtaining your permission. Equifax at 800-525-6285; Experian at 888-397-3742; and TransUnion at 800-680-7289.
- The Consumer Credit Counseling Service may be able to assist you in clearing fraudulent purchases and accounts from your credit report. Call 800-388-2227.