What is Identity Theft?
Avoid Becoming a Victim of ID Theft
Helpful information to keep your identity safe
In the course of a busy day, you may write a check at the grocery store, charge tickets to a ball game, rent a car, mail your tax returns, change service providers for your cell phone, or apply for a credit card. In each transaction, you reveal bits of personal information, like your bank and credit card account numbers; your income; your Social Security number (SSN); or your name, address, and phone numbers — a goldmine of information for an identity thief. Once a thief has that information, it can be used without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft.
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may use it to commit fraud or theft. For example:
- They may call your credit card issuer to change the billing address on your account The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because the bills are being sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there’s a problem.
- They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the credit cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts are reported on your credit report.
- They may establish phone or wireless service in your name.
- They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on the account.
- They may counterfeit checks or credit or debit cards, or authorize electronic transfers in your name, and drain your bank account.
- They may file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred under your name, or to avoid eviction.
- They may buy a car by taking out an auto loan in your name.
- They may get identification such as a driver’s license issued with their picture, in your name.
- They may get a job or file fraudulent tax returns in your name.
- They may give your name to the police during an arrest. If they don’t show up for the court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.
- Failing to receive bills or other mail. This could mean an identity thief has submitted a change of address.
- Receiving credit cards for which you did not apply.
- Denial of credit for no apparent reason.
- Receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about merchandise or services you didn’t buy.
Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually; they provide free annual credit reports only through www.annualcreditreport.com, 1-877-322-8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts.
- Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.
- Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctors’ offices, or other institutions that collect your personally identifying information.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or are sure you know who you’re dealing with.
- Check an organization’s website by typing its URL in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting.
- Treat your mail and trash carefully. Deposit your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
- Tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired credit or charge cards that you’re discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
- Don’t carry your SSN card in your wallet; store it in a secure place.
- Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary and ask to use other types of identifiers.
- Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you’ll actually need when you go out. If your wallet is stolen — or if you lose it — report it immediately to the card issuers and the local police.
- Be cautious when responding to promotions. Identity thieves may create phony promotional offers to get you to give them your personal information.
- Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work; do the same with copies of administrative forms that have your sensitive personal information.
- When ordering new checks, pick them up from the bank instead of having them mailed to your home.
- If you need to provide your personal or financial information through an organization’s website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins “https:” (the “s’ stands for secure).
- Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary.
- Before you dispose of a computer, delete all the personal information it stored. Use a “wipe” utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
- Why do you need it?
- How will it be used?
- How do you protect it from being stolen?
- What will happen I if don’t give it to you?
- Financial accounts: Close accounts, like credit card and bank accounts, immediately. When you open new accounts, place passwords on them, avoid using your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number; or a series of consecutive numbers.
- Social Security number: Call the toll-free fraud number of any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports.
- Driver’s license/other government-issued identification: Contact the agency that issued the license or other identification document. Follow its procedures to cancel the document and to get a replacement. Ask the agency to flag your file so that no one else can get a license or any other identification document from them in your name.
- An initial alert stays on your credit report for at least 90 days. You may ask that an initial fraud alert be placed on your credit report if you suspect you have been, or could be, a victim of identity theft. An initial alert is appropriate if your wallet has been stolen or if you’ve been taken in by a “phishing” scam. When you place an initial fraud alert on your credit report, you’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.
- An extended alert stays on your credit report for seven years. You can have an extended alert placed on your credit report if you’ve been a victim of identity theft and you provide the consumer reporting company with an “identity theft report”.
- For charges and debits on existing accounts, ask the representative to send you the company’s fraud dispute forms. If the company doesn’t have special forms, write a letter to dispute the fraudulent charges or debits.
- For new unauthorized accounts, ask if the company accepts the ID Theft Affidavit. If not, ask the representative to send you the company’s fraud dispute forms.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The FTC publishes a series of publications about the importance of personal information privacy. To request free copies of brochures, visit ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-8824857).
If someone has used your name or other personal information to commit a fraud, please visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft for information on how to proceed and how to file an identity theft complaint. The site has links to useful information from other federal agencies, states, and consumer organizations. The information in your complaint becomes part of a secure database that law enforcement officials across the nation use to help stop identity thieves.