Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, such as:
- your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information - rummaging through your trash, stealing your wallets and purses, stealing your mail (including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks and tax information) or even scamming information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.
Once a crook obtains this personal information he or she may be able to obtain a copy of your birth certificate and Social Security card as well as apply for a driver's license, a passport or other form of picture ID. The identity thief may even be able to create phony documents with your personal information, and obtain credit cards, take out loans, make counterfeit checks or cards and go on a spending spree in your name. In effect, he or she becomes you for the sole purpose of committing fraud or theft.
Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen suffer in many ways. These victims can spend months or years — and their hard-earned money — cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of their good name and credit record. Some victims have lost job opportunities, been refused loans for education, housing or cars, or even been arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.
Can you prevent identity theft from occurring? As with any crime, you cannot completely control whether you will become a victim. You can, however, minimize your risk by managing your personal information cautiously and with heightened sensitivity.
- Protect your personal financial information. Be careful with your Social Security number, credit card and debit card numbers, account passwords, PINs (personal identification numbers) or other personal information.
- Be suspicious of unsolicited offers that seem to good to be true. They could be fraudulent attempts to get your bank account numbers or other personal information.
- Beware of phishing scams that attempt to solicit your personal information by posing as legitimate e-mails or websites. Never provide your bank account or other sensitive personal information over the Internet. Legitimate entities, including banks and government agencies, would never request such information via e-mail.
- Safeguard your incoming and outgoing mail. Remove incoming mail from your mailbox as soon as possible; outgoing mail that includes a check or other personal financial information should be placed in a blue Postal Service mailbox, handed to a mail carrier or personally taken to the post office.
- Prevent thieves from finding your information in your garbage. Destroy any documents that "dumpster divers" might use to commit fraud - including credit card applications, bank statements and receipts - preferably using a "crosscut" shredder that turns paper into confetti.
- Limit the confidential information in your wallet or purse.
- Review your credit card bills and bank statements as soon as they arrive.
- Monitor your credit report for signs of fraud. See below for more information.
Review your Credit Report
- Visit annualcreditreport.com
- Call toll-free: 1-877-322-8228
For more information, visit Free Credit Reports.
What to do if you are a victim?
- If your credit cards or identification of any kind are missing, immediately notify the issuers and speak with your bank.
- Report the crime to the police immediately. Ask the police to issue a police report. Creditors, banks, credit reporting agencies and insurance companies may require a police report to verify the crime of identity theft.
- Choose to place on your credit report an initial fraud alert, an extended fraud alert, and or a credit freeze. (Note: As of September 21, 2018, you can freeze or unfreeze your credit file for free.)
- For a complete list of steps to follow, please visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov, the federal government’s one-stop resource to help you report and recover from identity theft.