Identity theft is one of the fastest growing financial crimes in the United States, and the best defense you can have against this crime is to be informed. Identity theft affects an estimated nine million Americans each year according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and can cost its victims a lot of time and money trying to restore their financial reputation. Read the identity theft FAQs below to learn more.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft can take many forms, and occurs when someone uses your personal information including your name, social security number, bank accounts, etc., to commit fraud or other crimes. Often times you will not realize you have been a victim of identity theft until the crime has already negatively impacted your life.
How is my information stolen?
There are various ways that criminals can get your personal information without your permission. Have you ever thrown away bills, banking statements, or credit card offers? A common way for criminals to get your information is through skimming the dumpsters for items such as these. Technology has also allowed these people to steal your personal information through using storage devices to process your card information when making purchases online. Also, they have been using spam and pop-up messages to pose as financial institutions asking for your personal information.
What forms of identity theft can take place?
Criminals can use your information to add charges to your existing credit card/debit card, open up new credit cards in your name, write bad checks using your name or bank account number, take out a loan in your name, and even use your name to set up utility and phone services. They can also use your name and address to apply for jobs, to give to police if being questioned or arrested, to rent houses or apartments, and to order government identification items such as a driver’s license with their photograph instead of yours.
How do I know if my identity has been stolen?
The best way to ensure that your identity has not been stolen is to regularly monitor your monthly billing and account statements. You can also order a free annual credit report once every 12 months from each of the major nationwide consumer reporting agencies. To order your free annual report visit www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll-free 877.322.8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
What should I do if I am a victim of identity theft?
Following are some steps that you can and should take if you discover you are a victim of identity theft:
- Notify your creditors that the identity theft has taken place. To notify the three major nationwide consumer reporting agencies, you need to contact only one to alert them of fraud.
Equifax: 1.800.525.6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1.888.EXPERIAN (397.3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 1.800.680.7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by using the online complaint form; or call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1.877.ID.THEFT (438.4338); TTY: 1.866.653.4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
- File a police report with specific details regarding the identity theft including a copy of the FTC complaint form. This report can be used to protect yourself from negative impact when given to the three major nationwide consumer reporting agencies or to companies where the thief used your personal information. The identity theft report can block the fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report, prevent companies from collecting on debts that were a result of the identity theft, and allow you to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report requiring potential creditors or lenders to contact you by phone or in person before extending you credit.
- Dispute any unauthorized charges or activity. Close all accounts with unauthorized activity, or all accounts opened fraudulently.
How do I personally prevent identity theft?
- Guard your Social Security number.
- Do not open or respond to email that is suspicious Install firewalls or anti-spyware programs on your computer.
- Beware of mail or telephone solicitations that offer prizes or awards. Always shred papers with financial information, including credit card offers.
- Examine the charges on your bills before paying them. Sign new credit cards immediately. Cancel unused credit-card accounts.
- Report lost or stolen cards to the police and cancel the cards immediately. Check your credit once or twice a year. The Federal Trade Commission offers a free annual credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.