The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) publishes helpful information on their website about how to protect yourself against identity theft. Visit http://www.ftc.gov and use their search tool with the terms “identity theft” to find useful publications. You might also look for information at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft (please note that this website address may change).
The following short article, reprinted from a brochure published by the FTC in May 2010, introduces the major and common concerns regarding identity theft.
As with all the information and forms provided in this book, this article and the FTC’s brochure on identity theft from which it comes are intended as being illustrative only and should not to be relied upon for any specific matter. The reader should seek legal advice concerning a specific matter, as many issues must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Fighting back against identity theft
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.
Common ways that ID Theft happens:
Identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal your personal information, including:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions, companies or government agencies, and send email or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Hacking. They hack into your email or other online accounts to access your personal information, or into a company’s database to access its records.
- “Old-Fashioned” Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records from their employers, or bribe employees who have access.
Deter identity thieves by safeguarding 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. Avoid disclosing personal financial information when using public wireless connections.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date. If you use peer-to-peer file sharing, check the settings to make sure you’re not sharing other sensitive private files. Visit www.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, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having work done in your house.
Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.
Be alert to signs that require immediate attention:
- Bills that do not arrive as expected.
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements.
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason.
- Calls or letters about purchases you did not make.
- Charges on your financial statements that you don’t recognize.
Inspect your credit report.
Credit reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history. The law requires the major nationwide credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to give you a free copy of your credit report every 12 months if you ask for it. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies, to order your free annual credit report. You also can write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
If you see accounts or addresses you don’t recognize or information that is inaccurate, contact the credit reporting company and the information provider. To find out how to correct errors on your credit report, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect it.
- 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; a call to one company is sufficient:
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of 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.
- Contact the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or charged without your okay.
- Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
- Use the ID Theft Affidavit at www.ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
- Ask for verification that the disputed account has been dealt with and the fraudulent debts discharged.
- Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
- File a police report. File a report with law enforcement officials to help you correct your credit report and deal with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.
By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338)
or TTY: 1-866-653-4261
By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580
To learn more about ID theft and how to deter, detect, and defend against it, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Or request copies of ID theft resources by writing to:
Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, H-130
Washington, DC 20580