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.
- Be defensive with your personal information.
Shred and destroy unwanted documents that contain
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
Have the post office hold your mail when you go on vacation.
Don't carry your social security card or birth
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.
Always review privacy policies
Check the reputation of online organizations
Make sure your transactions are secure
- 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
replacement card before the expiration date, call the issuer.
- Create strong passwords and keep them secret.
Keep all of your passwords secret and remember them
writing them down.
Cover the screen with your hand when you type in your
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
- Improve your computer's security.
Keep your antivirus software and other software
to prevent hackers from stealing your personal information.
What should I do if I think someone has
stolen my identity?
- Immediately place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
The three major credit card bureaus are:
Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 800-525-6285
begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-525-6285 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
P.O. Box 740250
Atlanta, GA 30374
800-685-1111 / 888-766-0008
Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 888-397-3742
Credit Fraud Center P.O. Box 1017
Allen, TX 75013
- Trans Union
Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud:
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634
Phone: 800-916-8800 / 800-680-7289
- 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
- Close accounts which were accessed or opened fraudulently.
- Change the passwords on all of your accounts.
Create a new, strong password--don't reuse an old one or one
- File a report with the local police.