Identity theft occurs when someone acquires
your personal information and uses it without
your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. It is a
serious crime and cases are growing. An
all-too-common example is when an identity thief
uses your personal information to open a credit
card account in your name.
No matter how cautious you are, there is no
way to completely prevent identity theft from
occurring. But there are ways you can help
minimize your risk. This page contains valuable
information on how you can protect yourself by
managing your personal information wisely, the
warning signs of identity theft, and what to do
if you do become a victim.
Don't give out personal information on
the phone, through the mail or over the
Internet unless you've initiated the contact
or are sure you know whom you're dealing
Don't carry your Social Security card
with you; leave it in a secure place. Carry
only the identification and credit and debit
cards that you need.
Don't put your address, phone number, or
drivers license number on credit card sales
Social Security numbers or phone numbers
should not be put on your checks.
Shred your charge receipts, copies of
credit applications, insurance forms,
physician statements, checks and bank
statements, expired charge cards that you're
discarding, and credit offers you get in the
Secure your credit card, bank, and phone
accounts with passwords. Avoid using easily
available information like birth date, the
last four digits of your SSN, or your phone
number. When opening new accounts, you may
find that many businesses still have a line
on their applications for your mother's
maiden name. Use a password instead.
Secure personal information in your
home, particularly if you have roommates or
hire outside help.
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.
Ask about information security
procedures in your workplace. Find out who
has access to your personal information and
verify that records are kept in a secure
location. Ask about the disposal procedures
for those records as well.
Before revealing any personally
identifying information (for example, on an
application), find out how it will be used
and secured, and whether it will be shared
with others. Ask if you have a choice about
the use of your information. Can you choose
to have it kept confidential?
Check your credit report
Order a copy of your credit report from each
of the three major credit-reporting agencies
every year. Make sure it is accurate and
includes only those activities you have
authorized. The law allows credit bureaus to
charge you up to $9.00 for a copy of your credit
By checking your report on a regular basis
you can catch mistakes and fraud before they
wreak havoc on your personal finances. Don't
underestimate the importance of this step.
To order your report, call: 1-800-685-1111
To report fraud, call: 1-800-525-6285
To order your credit report or report fraud,
call: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
To order your report, call: 800-916-8800
To report fraud, call: 1-800-680-7289
Although there may be no warning signs that
precede an identity theft, there are some
reasons to be concerned. These include:
Your bills or statements don’t arrive on
time. A missing credit card bill could mean
someone has taken over your account and
changed your billing address.
You are denied credit for no apparent
You begin to receive bills from
companies where you haven’t bought anything.
Collection agencies begin trying to
collect on debts you don’t recognize.
If you do become a victim
Sometimes an identity thief can strike even
if you've been very careful about keeping your
personal information to yourself. If you suspect
that your personal information has been hijacked
and misappropriated to commit fraud or theft,
take action immediately. Keep a record of your
conversations and correspondence.
Exactly which steps you should take to
protect yourself depends on your circumstances
and how your identity has been misused. However,
three basic actions are appropriate in almost
Contact the fraud departments of each
of the three major credit bureaus. You
should request that a "fraud alert" be
placed in your file, as well as a victim's
statement asking that creditors call you
before opening any new accounts or changing
your existing accounts. This can help
prevent an identity thief from opening
additional accounts in your name.
same time, order copies of your credit
reports from the credit bureaus. Credit
bureaus must give you a free copy of your
report if your report is inaccurate because
of fraud, and you request it in writing.
Review your reports carefully to make sure
no additional fraudulent accounts have been
opened in your name or unauthorized changes
made to your existing accounts. Also, check
the section of your report that lists
"inquiries." Where "inquiries" appear from
the company(ies) that opened the fraudulent
account(s), request that these "inquiries"
be removed from your report
Please note: Fraud alerts and victim
statements are voluntary services provided
by the credit bureaus. Creditors do not have
to consider them when granting credit.
That's why it's vital to continue checking
your reports periodically. In addition,
fraud alerts and victim statements expire;
you need to renew them periodically. Ask
each bureau about its policy.
Close all accounts that you know or
believe have been tampered with or opened
Notify all creditors and financial
institutions, in writing and by phone, that
your name and accounts have been used
without your permission. If an existing
account has been stolen ask the creditor or
bank to issue you new cards, checks, and
account numbers. Carefully monitor the
account activity to the issuing company
File a Police Report
much documentation as you can- such as debt
collection letters, credit reports, and
other evidence of fraudulent activity. This
information will help the police file a
Be persistent. Stress the importance of a
police report, as many creditors require one
to resolve your dispute. Plus, credit
bureaus will automatically block the
fraudulent accounts and bad debts from
appearing on your credit report, but only if
you can give them a copy of the police
report. If you can't get the local police to
take a report, try your county police. If
that doesn’t work, try your state police.
Federal law enforcement
Also report the crime to the following
federal law enforcement agencies.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC is collecting identity theft
complaints from consumers to help law
enforcement agencies worldwide.
Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington DC 20580
or Call 877-IDTHEFT
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
The FBI investigates cases of identity theft
and recognizes that identity theft is a
component of many crimes. These include bank
fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, bankruptcy
fraud, insurance fraud, fraud against the
government, and terrorism. Local offices are
listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone
U.S. Secret Service (USSS)
The U.S. Secret Service investigates
financial crimes, including identity theft.
The Secret Service typically investigates
cases involving larger dollar amounts, but
regardless of your loss, the information may
provide evidence of a larger pattern of
fraud requiring their involvement. Local
offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your