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Identity Theft

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.  Identity theft is a serious crime that's on the rise in this automated, online world.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or some other piece of your personal information for financial gain. Thieves often use this information to apply for a credit card, make unauthorized purchases, gain access to your bank accounts, or obtain loans under your name.

Usually victims know their identity is stolen only after they are contacted by a collection agency over past due accounts they never knew they had or they receive significant charges on a credit card bill for purchases they never made. Sometimes, they are contacted by the police after a crime is committed in their name.

Protect Yourself

  1. Be defensive with your personal information.
    • Shred and destroy unwanted documents that contain personal information, including mail, unwanted credit card offers, old bills, etc. Cut up your expired or unwanted credit cards.
    • Bring your mail in daily--don't leave mail in your mailbox. Have the post office hold your mail when you go on vacation.
    • Don't carry your social security card or birth certificate with you. Keep them locked up in a safe place.
    • Share personal information over the phone or online onlyw hen you are certain that you know the person or business with whom you're speaking.
    • When online:
      • Always review privacy policies
      • Check the reputation of online organizations
      • Make sure your transactions are secure
  2. Protect your credit.
    • Sign all new credit/debit cards as soon as you get them. If they are unsigned and end up being lost or stolen, anyone can forge your signature on there instead.
    • Be aware and note when your monthly financial statements arrive in the mail. Notify your financial institutions if they don't arrive when expected.
    • Carefully check your financial statement every month. If you spot suspicious activity, immediately inform your bank.
    • Take all receipts with you after all credit/debit or ATM transactions. They contain at least part of your account number.
    • Immediately report lost or stolen credit/debit cards and blank or incomplete checks.
    • Watch your credit card expiration dates. If you don't receive a replacement card before the expiration date, call the issuer.
  3. Create strong passwords and keep them secret.
    • Keep all of your passwords secret and remember them without writing them down.
    • Cover the screen with your hand when you type in your PIN at the ATM or cash register. "Shoulder surfers" will try to watch over your shoulder to steal your PIN.
    • Please see our article on password protection for more information.
  4. Improve your computer's security.
    • Keep your antivirus software and other software up-to-date to prevent hackers from stealing your personal information.

What should I do if I think someone has stolen my identity?

  1. Immediately place a fraud alert on your credit reports. The three major credit card bureaus are:
    • Equifax
      Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 800-525-6285 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              800-525-6285      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
      Fraud Division
      P.O. Box 740250
      Atlanta, GA 30374
      800-685-1111  / 888-766-0008
      http://www.equifax.com
    • Experian
      Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 888-397-3742
      Credit Fraud Center P.O. Box 1017
      Allen, TX 75013
      888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)
      http://www.experian.com
    • Trans Union
      Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 800-680-7289
      Fraud Victim Assistance Department
      P.O. Box 6790
      Fullerton, CA 92634
      Phone: 800-916-8800  / 800-680-7289
      http://www.transunion.com
  2. If your Social Security Number has been stolen, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA can provide information on how to report the fraudulent use of your number and how to correct your earnings record. Contact the Fraud Hotline immediately after you suspect you're a victim of identity theft.
  3. Close accounts which were accessed or opened fraudulently.
  4. Change the passwords on all of your accounts. Create a new, strong password--don't reuse an old one or one that's similar).
  5. File a report with the local police.

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