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. Identity theft will not only cost you your time and money, it can also destroy your credit and ruin your good name.
Common Ways Identity Theft Happens
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal your personal information, including:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a "Change of Address" form.
- "Old-Fashioned" Stealing. They steal wallets and purses, mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit card offers, and new checks or tax return information. They may even steal personnel records from their employer or bribe employees who have access.
DETER, DETECT, DEFEND - Here are some helpful tips on how to protect your identity and good name:
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 piece of identifying information.
- Don’t give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the internet, unless you know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to help protect your home computer; be sure to keep them up-to-date. Visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
- 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 inside your house.
Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.
- 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
- 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 consumer reporting companies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies, to order your free credit reports each year. You also can write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
- Your Financial Statements. Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make.
Defend against ID 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. 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. 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)
- Close Accounts. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing with copies of supporting documents. Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged. Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
- Use the ID Theft Affidavit at www.ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
- File a Police Report. File a report with law enforcement officials to help you 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.
- Please go to https://www.identitytheft.gov for information on how to recover from identity theft.
By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580
Identity Theft Videos
The Federal Trade Commission has many useful videos on their website (www.ftc.gov/idtheft) 3 helpful videos are available below.
To learn more about ID theft and how to deter, detect, and defend against it, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft or request copies of ID theft resources by writing to the Consumer Response Center at the address listed above for the Federal Trade Commission.
Information can also be obtained by contacting us at (607) 734-3374, (888) 372-9299, or by visiting your local branch office.