Identity Theft – Protecting Your Identity

Identity Theft is a serious crime.  It occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes.  It can happen to anyone.  Identity Theft can cost you time and money.  It can destroy your credit and ruin your good name.

Common Ways Identity Theft Happens

Identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal your personal information, including:

  1. Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it that hasn’t been shredded.
  2. Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
  3. Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions, companies or government agencies, and send email or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
  4. Hacking. They hack into your email or other online accounts to access your personal information, or into a company’s database to access its records.
  5. “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 from their employers, or bribe employees who have access.

Deter Identity Thieves by Safeguarding Your Information

  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Don’t 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.
  • Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with. Avoid disclosing personal financial information when using public wireless connections.
  • Never click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails; 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.
  • Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother’s 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. 

Routinely Monitor Your Financial Accounts and Billing Statements to Detect Suspicious Activity

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
  • Charges on your financial statements that you don’t recognize

Inspect:

  • 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 credit reporting companies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – to give you a free copy of your credit report every 12 months if you ask for it.
    • Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these companies, to order your free annual credit report. You can also write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
    • If you see accounts or addresses you don’t recognize or information that is inaccurate, contact the credit reporting company and the information provider. To find out how to correct errors on your credit report, visit ftc.gov/idtheft. 

Take Action Against Identity Theft As Soon As You Suspect It!

  • Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts.  The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient:
    • Experian : 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
    • TransUnion : 1-800-680-7289
    • Equifax : 1-800-525-6285

Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports.  Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain.

  • Contact the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or charged without your approval. 
    • Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
    • Use the ID Theft Affidavit at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
    • Ask for verification and that the disputed account has been dealt with and the fraudulent debts discharged.
    • Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about theft.
  • File a police report. File a report with law enforcement officials to help you correct your credit report and deal with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations. 

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