Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name or personal identifying information, such as your name, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, motor vehicle operator’s license number, Social Security number, employee identification number, employer or taxpayer identification number, alien registration number, government passport number, health insurance identification number, demand deposit account number, savings account number, credit card number, debit card number or unique biometric data such as fingerprint, voice print, retina or iris image, or other unique physical representation. Identity thieves use this information to open credit accounts, bank accounts, telephone service accounts, or make major purchases – all in your name. Information can be used to take over existing accounts or to open new accounts. Identity theft can result in damage to your credit rating and denial of credit.
Types of Identity Theft
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft Data Clearinghouse, the most common types of identity theft are:
- Using or opening a credit card account fraudulently
- Opening telecommunications or utility accounts fraudulently
- Passing bad checks or opening a new bank account
- Getting loans in another person’s name
- Working in another person’s name
- Child Identity Theft
- Identity Cloning
- Medicare Fraud
How Identity Theft Occurs
How identity thieves get your personal information:
- They steal wallets and purses containing your identification and credit and bank cards.
- They steal your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards and tax information.
- They complete a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location.
- They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data in a practice known as “dumpster diving.”
- They fraudulently obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legitimate need for and a legal right to the information.
- They get your business or personnel records at work.
- They find personal information in your home.
- They use personal information you share on the internet.
They buy your personal information from “inside” sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information about you that appears on an application for goods, services or credit.
Protect Your Identity
While there is no guarantee that your identity will never be stolen, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk:
- Do not give out your Social Security number to people or companies that you don’t know; give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Don’t carry your Social Security card; leave it in a secure place.
- Before disclosing any personal information, make sure you know why it is required and why and how it will be used.
- Change your driver’s license number from your Social Security number to a state assigned number.
- Shred information you no longer need that contains personally identifiable information and account numbers.
- Guard your mail from theft. If you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at (800)-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
- Secure personal information in your home.
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information.
- Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles.
- Be wary of promotional scams.
Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.
If You're A Victim
- Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus
Request that a “fraud alert” be placed on your file and include a statement that creditors must get your permission before any new accounts are opened in your name.
The three major credit bureaus are:
To order your report, call: 1-800-685-1111
or write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
To report fraud, call: 1-800-525-6285
and write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
To order your report, call: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
or write: P.O. Box 2104, Allen TX 75013
To report fraud, call: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
and write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen TX 75013
To order your report, call: 800-916-8800
or write: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022.
To report fraud, call: 1-800-680-7289
and write: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
- Contact all the creditors involved.
Let them know that your accounts may have been used without your permission, or that new accounts have been opened in your name. If your accounts have been used fraudulently, ask that new cards and account numbers be issued to you. Check your billing statements carefully and report any fraudulent activity immediately. Many banks and creditors will accept the “ID Theft Affidavit” available at the Federal Trade Commission, to dispute the fraudulent charges.
- File a police report.
Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others who may require proof of a crime.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission.
Call the FTC’s ID Theft Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338) to report the theft. Counselors will take your complaint and advise you on how to deal with the credit-related problems that could result from ID theft. The Identity Theft Hotline and the ID Theft websitegive consumers one place to report the theft to the federal government and receive helpful information.
Keep a record of your contacts.
Start a file with copies of your credit reports, the police report, any correspondence, and copies of disputed bills. It is also helpful to keep a log of your conversations with creditors, law enforcement officials and other relevant parties. Follow up all phone calls in writing and send all correspondence certified, return receipt requested.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (link website: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/white-collar-crime/identity-theft)
- Federal Trade Commission (link website: https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/report-identity-theft)
- gov (link website: https://identitytheft.gov/)
- gov (link website: https://www.medicare.gov/forms-help-resources/help-fight-medicare-fraud)
- S. Postal Inspection Service (link website: https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/investigations/MailFraud/fraudschemes/mailtheft/IdentityTheft.aspx)