Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
How do thieves steal an identity?
- Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information.
- Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information.
- 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, or bribe employees who have access.
- Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources. For more information about pretexting, go to www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/pretexting.html.
What are the signs of identity theft?
- Accounts you didn't open and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
- Fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit reports, including accounts and personal information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers.
- Failing to receive bills or other mail. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- Receiving credit cards that you didn't apply for.
- Being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason.
- Getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn't buy.
What should you do if your identity is stolen?
- Filing a police report, checking your credit reports, notifying creditors, and disputing any unauthorized transactions are some of the steps you must take immediately to restore your good name.
- To learn more about these steps and more, visit the DEFEND: Recover from Identity Theft section at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/defend.html.
- Protect your Social Security number.
- Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check.
- Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary, and ask to use other types of identifiers.
- Don’t use Social Security number as policy or ID number.
- Treat your trash and mail carefully.
- Shred Important documents.
- Opt out of credit card offers by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688).
- Deposit your outgoing mail containing personally identifying information 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, contact the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 or online at www.usps.gov, to request a vacation hold.
- Be on guard when using the Internet.
- The Internet can give you access to information, entertainment, financial offers, and countless other services but at the same time, it can leave you vulnerable to online scammers, identity thieves and more.
- For practical tips to help you be on guard against Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information, visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov.
- Select intricate passwords.
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts.
- Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, a series of consecutive numbers, or a single word that would appear in a dictionary.
- Combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters make the strongest passwords.
- Verify a source before sharing information.
- Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you've initiated the contact and are sure you know who you're dealing with.
- Identity thieves are clever, and may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people to reveal their Social Security number, mother's maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information.
- Confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organizations.
- Call the organizations costumer service to verify sources.
- Safeguard your purse and wallet.
- Protect your purse and wallet at all times.
- Don't carry your Social Security number or card; leave it in a secure place.
- Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you'll actually need when you go out.
- Store information in secure locations.
- 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.
- Share your personal information only with those family members who have a legitimate need for it.
- 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.
- Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctor's offices or other institutions that collect your personally identifying information.
- Freeze your credit.
- Many states have laws that let consumers "freeze" their credit – in other words, letting a consumer restrict access to his or her credit report.
- If you place a credit freeze, potential creditors and other third parties will not be able to get access to your credit report unless you temporarily lift the freeze.
- Placing a credit freeze does not affect your credit score – nor does it keep you from getting your free annual credit report, or from buying your credit report or score.
- You can find more information about credit freeze laws specific to your state by going to www.consumersunion.org/campaigns/learn_more/003484indiv.html.
What steps I should take if I'm a victim of identity theft?
Get more information at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft