Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. Credit card numbers, driver's license numbers, social security numbers, and other personal identification can net criminals thousands of dollars in a very short period of time. While the financial loss incurred by this type of crime is not always incurred by the consumer, it can significantly traumatize them and take them months if not years to restore their credit and good name, and may keep them from being able to cash checks, obtain loans, or event rent an apartment.
- Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information:
- Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on your check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
- Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect you home computer; keep them up-to-date. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
- Don't use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house.
- Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.
- Be alert to signs that require immediate attention:
- Bills that do not arrive as expected.
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements.
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason.
- Calls or letters about purchases you did not make.
- Your credit report. Credit reports contain information about yu, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history.
The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies --- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion --- to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it. Visit www.AnnualCreditReprt.com or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies, to order your free credit reports each year. You also can write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect it. Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient:
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
Close accounts: Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. Call the security or fraud department of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
Use the ID Theft Affidavit at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement. Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged. Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
Common Ways ID Theft Happens:
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal your personal information, including:
Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
Phishing. 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 from their employers, or bribe employees who have access.