What is Identity Theft?
Identity Theft occurs when sensitive information like your Social Security number, drivers license number, account number, credit/debit card number, PIN, or password is used by someone pretending to be you. Criminals use this information along with your name and address to apply for credit, open accounts, withdraw money or make purchases for their own gain.
How to Know if You are a Victim of Identity Theft
- There are transactions on your account statement that you did not make.
- Access to your online accounts that you did not do.
- Your credit score falls because of faults on loans or credit cards of which you had no knowledge.
- You are denied credit, loans, mortgages, employment, government benefits, utilities and leases because your credit report or background check shows fraudulently incurred debts or wrongful criminal activity.
- You receive credit cards in the mail that you did not apply for.
- Debt Collectors begin to call on past-due accounts that you did not know existed.
How a Thief Steals Your Identity
- By stealing your mail or completing a "change of address form" to have it redirected.
- By stealing your purse or wallet containing information such as your credit card and driver's license.
- By going through your trash cans to find your personal information.
- By Phishing; the process in which criminals send fraudulent email that appears to be from a credible source asking you to click a link to a fake website that may ask you for your personal information.
- By Pharming; the process in which a criminal attacks a legitimate website's traffic and redirects the users to a fake website to ask for personal information.
- By Varming; a telephone scam where the victim receives a call asking for the security code on the back of their credit card.
- By hacking a merchant's accounting or computer system and stealing payment information.
What to Do if it Happens to You
- Notify your financial institution, have them contact you if there is any unusual activity, and change your PINs (Personal Identification Numbers) and passwords.
- Contact the police in the jurisdiction the crime took place as well as your post office if you suspect mail fraud.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 877-IDTHEFT or visit www.ftc.gov
- Call one of the Credit Bureaus and request a Fraud Alert be placed on your account, name and social security number. By calling one of the credit bureaus, they will automatically notify the other two bureaus on your behalf. The Fraud Alert will make it necessary for any creditor to contact you to authorize new lines of credit. As a victim of identity theft you are entitled to free credit reports, retain them for your records. Follow up on your call to the credit bureau by sending a certified letter and enclose a copy of the police report.
- Close all accounts or credit cards that have been tampered with.
- Keep records of all correspondence regarding the theft.
Helpful Hints to Avoid Identity Theft
- Only deal with reputable, secure sites.
- Before submitting personal information online, verify the site is secure by looking for the padlock symbol, which insures an encrypted connection.
- Use a Spyware detection system.
- Use Antivirus software.
- Create unique passwords: Don't use your birth date or Social Security number.
- Do not open or download files from unknown senders.
- Order your credit report once a year to check for inaccuracies.
- Replace traditional paper financial statements with eStatements.
- Read your account and credit card statements upon arrival and check for any suspicious behavior.
- Find a secure location in your home for personal information, especially if you have roommates or employ service providers in your home.
- Choose passwords and PINs that are not predictable; avoid using your Social Security number or your birth date.
- Shred all personal documents before discarding them.
- Replace paper statements, invoices, and checks with electronic invoices.
- Opt out of pre-screened credit offers by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com or by calling 888-567-8688.
Here's a link to the Attorney General's Identity Theft Victim's Kit. The kit will help with the process of recovering from the identity crime committed against you.
Credit Reporting Agencies
Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline
Annual Credit Report
Social Security Statement Request
Identity Theft Resource Center