Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, driver’s license number, Social Security number, birth date, or other personally identifying information for fraudulent purposes and without your knowledge. A common example is when a thief uses your personal information to open a credit card account in your name. Often this type of crime only comes to light when you have been denied credit or receive collection notices for debts that you did not incur. Identity theft can cost you time and money, can destroy your credit and ruin your good name.
Take steps to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write it on a check. Give it out only if it is absolutely necessary.
- Shred financial documents and paperwork containing personal information before discarding them, especially unsolicited credit offers.
- Don't give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you are able to identify the person or company you are dealing with and you can determine what the information will be used for.
- Don't be intimidated by anyone requesting your personal information.
- Keep your personal information in a safe place at home.
- Don't use obvious passwords or codes like birth dates, telephone numbers, mother’s maiden name or any part of your Social Security Number.
- Change your passwords often and use a combination of letters and numbers.
- Never click on links sent to you in unsolicited emails. Type in a web address you know is correct. Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer and update the software often.
- Check your bank account and credit account statements carefully and in a timely manner.
- Request a free copy of your credit report annually from any of the three major credit bureaus and review carefully.
If you think you’ve become a victim of identity theft, act immediately to minimize the damage to your accounts as well as your reputation. Some actions you should take right away are:
- Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports and obtain and
review your credit report carefully. Any one of the three
nationwide consumer reporting companies can assist with a fraud
- Equifax – (800) 525-6285
- Experian – (888) 397-3742
- TransUnion – (800) 680-7289
- Contact your financial institutions and creditors to close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
- File a police report with your local police department.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission at:
- (877) 438-4338
- online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft
- Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.