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:
- Dumpster Diving
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 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 offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
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 business.
- 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 account.
- 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 computer.
- Set your computer's operating system, web browser, and security system to update automatically.
If Your Identity is Stolen
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
These two documents comprise 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.
Red Flags of Identity Theft
It is important to recognize the signs that possibly someone has stolen your identity. Some of those signs include:
- Mistakes on your bank, credit card, or other account statements;
- Mistakes on the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan;
- Your regular bills and account statements don't arrive on time;
- Bills or collection notices for products or services you never received;
- Calls from debt collectors about debts that don't belong to you;
- A notice from the IRS that someone used your Social Security number;
- Mail, email, or calls about accounts or jobs in your minor child's name;
- Unwarranted collection notices on your credit report;
- Businesses turn down your checks; or
- You are turned down unexpectedly for a loan or job.