What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a serious crime. It can disrupt your finances, credit history, and reputation, and take time, money, and patience to resolve. Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get ahold of your information, including:
They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with
your personal information on it.
They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage
device when processing your card.
They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send
spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal
Changing Your Address
They divert your billing statements to another location by
completing a change of address form.
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, or bribe employees who
They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from
financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources. The
term for this is pretexting.
How to Protect Your Information
• Read your credit reports. You have a right to a free credit report
every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit
reporting companies. Order all three reports at once, or order one
report every four months. To order, visit annualcreditreport.com or
call (877) 322-8228.
• Read your bank, credit card, and account statements, and the
explanation of medical benefits from your health plan. If a
statement has mistakes or doesn't come on time, contact the
• Shred all documents that show personal, financial, and medical
information before you throw them away.
• Don't respond to email, text, and phone messages that ask for
personal information. Legitimate companies don't ask for
information this way. Delete the messages.
• Create passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special
characters. Don't use the same password for more than one
• If you shop or bank online, use websites that protect your financial
information with encryption. An encrypted site has "https" at the
beginning of the web address; the "s" indicates the site is secure.
• If you use a public wireless network, don't send information to any
website that isn't fully encrypted.
• Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall on your
• Set your computer's operating system, web browser, and security
system to update automatically.
If Your Identity is Stolen
1. Flag Your Credit Reports
Call one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The
company you call must contact the other two so they can put fraud alerts on your files. An initial fraud
alert is good for 90 days.
Equifax (800) 525-6285
Experian (888) 397-3742
TransUnion (800) 680-7289
2. Order Your Credit Reports
Each company's credit report about you is slightly different, so order a report from each company. When
you order, you must answer some questions to prove your identity. Read your reports carefully to see if
the information is correct. If you see mistakes or signs of fraud, contact the credit reporting company.
3. Create an Identity Theft Report
An Identity Theft Report can help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop a
company from collecting debts caused by identity theft, and get information about accounts a thief
opened in your name.
To create an Identity Theft Report,
• First, file a complaint with the FTC or (877) 438-4338 // TTY (866) 653-4261. Your completed
complaint is called an FTC Affidavit.
• Then, take your FTC Affidavit to your local police, or to the police where the theft occurred, and file a
police report. Obtain a copy of the police report.
These two documents comprise an Identity Theft Report.