Identity theft is a serious crime that is on the rise. It occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. You can't guarantee that your identity will never be stolen, but you can minimize your risk by safeguarding your personal information and paying attention to possible signs of identity theft.
Safeguard Your Personal Information
Below are some steps to follow to help safeguard your personal information:
- Memorize your Social Security Number (SSN), passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs). Don't carry them with you
- Shred or destroy unwanted documents that contain personal information such as charge receipts, credit offers and applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements and expired credit cards and unused credit card applications
- Don't give out personal information and credit card or bank account numbers on the phone, through regular mail or e-mail, or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact, you know who you are dealing with, or the Web address (URL) begins with "https"
- Keep your purse, wallet and items that contain personal information in a safe place at home
- Match your credit card receipts against your monthly bills and check your monthly bank statements for accuracy - some fraudulent transactions involve small dollar amounts
- Annually review your credit reports for accuracy
- Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately
- Opt-out of receiving preapproved offers of credit or insurance at OptOutPrescreen.com or call 1-888-567-8688
- If you don't have a locked mailbox, put your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or take it to your local post office and promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited e-mail; check for possible internet and e-mail scams
- Do not use easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number for PINs or passwords
- Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information and check for updates often
- Always have a picture driver's license. This makes it more difficult to change and forge
Signs of Identity Theft
Watch for signs of identity theft. The quicker you catch it, the less likely you'll incur a major hassle or expense. Follow up with creditors if any of the following occur:
- Your bills don't arrive on time. This could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address
- You receive unexpected credit cards or account statements
- You are denied credit for no apparent reason
- You receive calls or letters about purchases you did not make
- You notice inaccuracies or unauthorized transactions on your credit reports (visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com to order your free credit reports each year)
- You notice charges on your financial account or billing statement that you did not make
- You may also receive a call from your credit card company asking if you made any outstanding charges or large purchases at an unusual location. This would be a tip-off that your information has been taken even though your physical card wasn't.
Steps to Take if You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
If you are the victim of identity theft, follow the steps below to minimize the damage:
- Contact the fraud departments of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and request that a fraud alert be placed on your credit file
- Close accounts (credit, bank, ATM and phone) that have been tampered with and open new ones with new PINs and passwords
- File a police report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place
- Contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-877- 438-4338 or use the online ID Theft Complaint form
- If the US Mail is involved, call your nearest Postal Inspection Service office or report identity theft on-line using the US Postal Inspection Service Identity Theft Complaint Form. Tampering with mail is a federal offense and carries a higher penalty if the thief is caught.
- If you suspect that someone else is using your SSN for work purposes, contact the Social Security Administration to report the problem
- Depending on the situation, you can have a stop payment placed on an individual check or have your account closed and open a new account. If any of the lost, stolen, or misused checks have been used, the bank will have you fill out an affidavit stating that forgery has occurred
You may also wish to contact the major check verification companies and request that they notify all retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks.
What happens when you get new checks? If your entire checkbook was stolen then you should close your account. Alternatively, the bank would know the check numbers, so you could notify what check numbers not to accept.
- CheckRite - (800) 766-2748
- ChexSystems - (800) 428-9623 (closed checking accounts)
- CrossCheck - (800) 552-1900
- Equifax- (800) 437-5120
- National Processing Co. (NPC) - (800) 526-5380
- SCAN - (800) 262-7771
- TeleCheck - (800)710-9898
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can you assist me with protecting myself from identity theft since my financial affairs are complicated and I am not sure about the best way to safeguard against it?
- I have had my identity stolen and I have stacks of documents that have come in from creditors and other loan agencies as a result, can you help me sift through this information and act on my behalf?
- I have been wrongly accused of committing a crime related to the theft of my identity, can you help me?