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What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone acquires your personal information and uses it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. It is a serious crime and its occurrence is increasing. A common example of identity theft is that of a thief using your personal information to open a credit card account in your name. Regardless of how cautious you are, there is no way to completely prevent identity theft from occurring. However, there are ways you can help minimize the risk to yourself. This page contains valuable information you may use to protect yourself and your personal information, warning signs of identity theft, and what to do if you become a victim.

Useful Tips

  • Don’t give out personal information over the telephone, through the mail, or through the Internet-unless you initiated the contact or are sure you know with whom you are dealing.
  • Don’t carry your social security card with you; leave it in a secure place. Carry only identification and credit/debit cards you may need.
  • Don’t put telephone numbers or social security numbers on your checks.
  • Shred all credit card receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired credit cards or credit card offers that you refuse.
  • Secure your credit card, bank, and telephone accounts with passwords. Avoid using easily available information like your birth date, the last four digits of your social security number, or your phone number. When opening new accounts, you may be asked for your mother’s maiden name-use your password instead.
  • Secure personal information in your home.
  • Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you are planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, call the US Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
  • Ask about information security procedures in your workplace. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that records are kept in a secure location. Also ask about the disposal procedure for those records.
  • Before you provide any personal information (i.e.- on an application), find out how it will be used, how it will be secured, whether it will be shared with other individuals or firms. Ask if you have a choice regarding use of information-can you choose to have your information kept confidential?

Check your Credit Report

Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. Make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities you have authorized. By checking your credit report on a regular basis, you can identify mistakes and fraud before they cause you financial grief. Don’t underestimate the importance of this step.

Major Credit Reporting Agencies

  • Equifax www.equifax.com
    To order your credit report, call 1-800-685-1111
    To report fraud, call: 1-800-525-6285.
  • Experian www.experian.com
    To order your credit report or to report fraud call 1-800-397-3742.
  • Trans Union www.transunion.com
    To order your credit report, call 1-800-916-8800
    To report fraud, call 1-800-680-7289.

Warning Signs

There may be no warning signs that precede identity theft, but there are warning signs that may tell you it has happened:

  • Your bills or statements do not arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean that someone has taken over your account and changed your billing address.
  • You are denied credit for no apparent reason.
  • You begin to receive bills from companies whom you haven’t purchased anything.

If you do become a Victim

If you suspect that your personal information has been misappropriated and used to commit fraud or theft, take action immediately. Keep a detailed record of your conversations and correspondence with creditors, credit reporting agencies and law enforcement.

Which steps should you take to protect yourself will depend on your particular circumstances and how your identity has been misused. There are, however, three basic action steps which are almost always appropriate to take:

1. Contact the Fraud department of each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Request a Fraud Alert: request a Victim’s Statement be placed in your credit file. Order copies of your credit report from each of these major credit reporting agencies.

2. Close all accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Notify all credit and financial institutions, in writing and by telephone, that your name and accounts have been used without your permission.

3. File a Police Report, provide as much documentation as you can. Include all evidence of fraudulent activity. If you are unable to get the local Police department to take a report, try the county Sheriff’s office or other local law enforcement agency.

4. File reports with Federal Law enforcement agencies:

(FTC) Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Ave N.W.
Washington D.C. 20580
Phone: 877-IDTHEFT

(FBI) Federal Bureau of Investigation. Local offices are listed in the US Government pages of your phone directory.

(USSS) US Secret Service. Your loss may be part of a larger scheme. Local offices are listed in the US Government pages of your local directory.