Identity theft is a serious crime. It occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity theft can cost you time and money. It can destroy your credit and ruin your good name.
While there are no guarantees about avoiding identity theft, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk and the damage if it occurs:
Safeguard Your Information
Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
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 it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; Use firewalls, antispyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
Don't use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
Keep your personal information in a secure place at home.
Monitor Your Accounts and Billing Statements
Be alert to signs that require immediate attention, like bills that don'tt arrive as expected, unexpected credit cards or account statements, denials of credit for no apparent reason, or calls or letters about purchases you didn't make.
Inspect your credit report. These reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history. The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to order your free credit reports each year. You also can write:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Inspect your financial statements. Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make.
Suspect Something? Act Quickly!
Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert:
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too. Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to order free copies of your credit reports, and, if you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports.
Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
Once Fraud Is Detected, Take These Steps
Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing with copies of supporting documents.
Use the ID Theft Affidavit at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
File a police report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC maintains a database of I.D. theft cases used by law enforcement for investigations. Reach them online at ftc.gov/idtheft, by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261, or by mail:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, DC 2058