You become a victim of identity theft when someone obtains your identifying information, such as name, address, date of birth, social security number, and/or your mother's maiden name, and uses it illegally. This information can be used to open bank accounts in your name or empty your current bank account(s), apply for and receive loans, purchase cars or other items, and open credit card accounts.
Identity theft has become a common occurrence in recent years. You can never guarantee that your identity will not be stolen; you can, however, take precautions to prevent this information from being readily available. The information below outlines the warning signs and protection methods for preventing identity theft. We also provide steps to follow if you do become a victim of this crime.
For information about which documents should be shredded to protect your identity, please see Shredding Guidelines.
There may not be any warning signs at all, but here are a few common causes for concern:
- Your credit card bill and/or bank statement does not arrive.
- You apply for a loan, and are denied credit, even though you know you have a good credit history.
- You receive a bill from a company you don't recognize.
- A credit collection agency or law office contacts you about debts that are not your own.
Protect your personal information:
- Ask the businesses you deal with (including doctors, lawyers, your employer, etc.) how they use and protect your information.
- DO NOT carry your social security card, birth certificate, or passport, unless absolutely necessary. If you must carry one of these items at any time, be sure to keep the others in a safe, secure place.
- Do not write extra information (address, telephone number, etc.) on a credit card sales receipt.
- Do not write your social security number or your phone number on checks.
- Do not give out identifying information over the phone or internet unless absolutely necessary.
- Shred all personal documents (by hand or shredding machine) before throwing them away.
- If your state uses your social security number on your driver's license, request a different number.
Protect your financial information:
- Order a copy of your credit report every year. Credit reports are now available at no charge to consumers. Visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp
- Keep your financial information (bank statements, credit card statements, etc.) in a safe place at home, preferably in a drawer or container you can lock to prevent these valuable records from being stolen in the case of a break-in.
- Be sure to examine your credit card statements carefully; if there are any purchases listed that you did not make, contact your credit card provider to dispute the charges immediately. If you do not receive a credit card statement one month, contact them immediately in this case also.
- Keep a list of all credit cards, bank accounts (including account numbers, phone numbers, expiration dates) in a safe place.
- Do not make purchases with your credit card on the internet unless your information will be encrypted.
- Shred all financial documents when you no longer need them. Do not just throw them away.
- Store credit cards you do not use often in a safe place. If you will never use them again, cancel the accounts and cut the cards before discarding them.
- Only carry credit cards you use.
- When you open a new credit card account, pay attention to the expected arrival date of the new card. If it does not arrive on time, contact the credit card company immediately.
- Use something other than your mother's maiden name as a password for your accounts. This is information that can be discovered quite easily.
- Unless you are certain of the security of your mailbox, mail bill payments at the post office.
For Victims of Identity Theft
Even if you have done everything you can to protect yourself from identity theft, you can still become a victim. In that case, you should take the following steps to protect yourself and your personal credit history.
First, contact the local law enforcement. Give them as much information as you can: what exactly was stolen, or how you suspect the thief obtained your identity information, what accounts are affected, etc. Make sure you have the affected accounts listed on the police report, because the police report will become an important document when you are communicating with credit card companies, banks, and credit reporting agencies about fraudulent charges or fraudulent accounts opened in your name.
Contact all of your creditors and financial institutions to let them know what has happened. Contacting them by phone is fine in most cases; you may also (or they may request you to) write a letter, so that an actual document proving you have contacted them exists.
Contact the three major credit bureaus immediately: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Report the incident by letter (fax or mail), and ask them to place a “fraud alert” on your credit report. This alert should help prevent anyone from opening fraudulent accounts in your name, although not all creditors check your credit report before issuing a new account. Be sure to make a note of when the “fraud alert” expires so that you can renew it to keep it active for as long as possible. Check your credit reports at least every six months and scan them for fraudulent accounts.
Trans Union: 1-800-916-8800
You may want to opt-out of free credit card offers for further protection. In order to do this, call: 1-800-5-OPT-OUT.
Be sure to keep records of all correspondence with creditors, credit bureaus, and federal agencies while you are resolving your identity theft situation. Always include the date and name of the contact person. Although making a telephone call to resolve a problem with an account is often the quickest, most efficient way, you should also follow up any phone correspondence with an actual letter (sent by mail or fax), and keep a copy. You may also want to request that the creditor or merchant send you a letter absolving you of responsibility in the matter when it has been resolved.
Report your identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Once you have reported this information to the FTC, they will store it in a database available to local, national, and international law enforcement agencies. This is an added measure of protection and documentation. The FTC also provides information for victims of identity theft. You can contact them at:
Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
More Information About Identity Theft
The following websites contain more information about steps for dealing with identity theft: