Identity Theft Protection
This page discusses how you can prevent identify theft using knowledge, good decision making, and care. We take your financial security very seriously, but some aspects of it will always be in your own hands. Here you’ll find eight key ways to prevent identity theft, as well as what to do if you do become a victim.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name for their own personal gain, using your name, social security number, credit card, and other information to commit theft or fraud. With your personal information the identity thief could (1) open a credit card account in your name and run up charges, (2) establish a cellular phone account in your name, or (3) they could open a checking account in your name, writing fraudulent checks on the account. These are just a few ways someone could take advantage of your personal information.
Eight ways to protect against identity theft
Safeguarding your personal information is essential to minimizing the risk of having your identity stolen. We have put together several important tips to consider:
1. Shred documents containing personal or financial information, such as statements or receipts, unless you need them for your records. Keep records in a secure location. Destroy credit card offers you receive in the mail before discarding them.
2. Do not give out information to unknown sources over the phone or through the mail unless you initiated the call. Keep in mind that identity thieves often pose as banks, credit unions, or credit card companies.
3. Internet Security. When giving personal information over the internet, be sure the site is secure by checking for the security notification from your internet service provider. If you receive an e-mail request that appears to be from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) stating that your “account information needs to be updated” or that “the credit card you signed up with is invalid or expired and the information needs to be reentered to keep your account active,” do not respond without checking with your ISP first.
4. Watch your mail and clear it as soon as possible after the mail has been delivered. Thieves frequently steal from mailboxes to obtain credit cards, loan offers, and financial statements. Review statements and bills for accuracy, and act quickly if a bill or statement doesn’t arrive on time.
5. Watch your belongings. Identity thieves will often steal wallets or purses to obtain personal information. Carry only the minimum identifying information and credit cards with you, and keep all others in a safe location. Never leave your purse or wallet in your car; parking lots are a favorite among thieves.
6. Guard your Social Security Number. Do not carry your Social Security card with you, instead keep it at home in a safe location. Be sure to give out your SSN only when absolutely necessary. You should never use your Social Security Number (SSN) as an account number or identification number.
7. Protect your passwords. Try to memorize your passwords if you can, but if you must write them down, be sure to store them in a secure location. Carefully protect your personal identification number (PIN) when using a cash machine and shred your receipts. Try not to use the same personal identification number (PIN) or password for everything. Be sure not to use a password that would be easy to guess, such as your name.
8. Review your credit reports. At least once a year, check to see if there has been any unauthorized activity in your name. If so, report any incorrect information to them immediately. Obtain copies of your credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies. The three major bureaus are:
The Federal Trade Commission has lots of valuable information about how to protect yourself against identity theft, as well as what to do if you are the victim of identity theft.
What to do if your identity is stolen
If your identity is stolen, here is what you should do:
1. Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241; www.equifax.com;
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013; www.experian.com
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790; www.transunion.com
The fraud alert tells creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. 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.
2. Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit (PDF, 56 KB) when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
3. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report or at the very least, the number of the report, to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
4. File your complaint with the FTC. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps them learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that they can better assist you.
For more in-depth information on recovering from identity theft and help with specific problems, read Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft.