Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. In many cases, the victim is unaware of the activity until months after the incident. The effect of identity theft can be costly to you in terms of time and money.
Identity Theft can happen in various ways:
- After someone steals your wallet, purse or mail.
- By stealing personnel records from employers.
- By pretending to be financial institutions or businesses and sending spam email (called phishing) or pop-up messages in an attempt to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Identity thieves will also rummage through the trash at your home or workplace looking for bills or other documents with your personal information on it.
To protect your identity, you should:
- Review your credit reports. You can do this for free annually! Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228, which were established to handle consumer requests by the consumer reporting companies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit bureau files if you feel information has been exposed.
- Adopt daily practices like shredding your personal & financial documents, staying aware of the latest scams, protecting your home computer with anti-spyware, virus detection software and firewalls. Keep these programs up to date.
- Secure your mail by utilizing a Postal Service Mail Box or by placing your outgoing mail into locked mailbox.
- Sign up for estatement services – not only does it protect your monthly statement, it also cuts down on paper and postage expense!
- Safeguard your Social Security Number – don’t leave your Social Security Card in your wallet and ask why when a person requests your SSN for business purposes.
- Don't leave a paper trail. Never leave ATM, credit card or gas station receipts behind.
- Know with whom you are speaking with before providing any confidential information. If you are not sure about the legitimacy of the caller, hang up and call back by utilizing a telephone number familiar to you.
- Never click on links sent to you by an unsolicited email.
Be alert for warning signs of possible Identity Theft, such as:
- Regular bills that do not arrive as expected.
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason.
- Account Statements or credit cards in the mail that you were not expecting.
- Calls or letters concerning purchases you did not make.
If you think your identity has been compromised:
- If your bank accounts have been compromised, immediately notify those Financial Institution(s). Make a note for your file of what Institution was contacted, who you talked to and the date/time your call was made.
- Place a verbal password on your accounts to prevent thieves from calling in and finding out more about your financial transactions.
- Close or transfer those accounts that have been compromised or tampered with to a new account number.
- Request that any account that was fraudulently opened in your name be closed immediately.
- Place a Fraud Alert on your Credit Report. You can do this by contacting the Credit Bureaus:
- Request a copy of your Credit Reports and review them carefully. Question any unknown activity and report disputes in writing.
- File a police report and maintain a copy in your file for future reference.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission. You can do this online via ftc.gov
- Keep an eye out for future attempts. Identity Thieves often will lay low for months and then strike again, hoping to catch you off guard.