Identity Theft FAQ
Video: What is Identity theft?
Identity theft is the acquisition of personal information belonging to another individual and use of that information to act "as if" the user were that person. Personal information includes identification such as name, online alias, social security number, birthdate, account number, or any other personally identifying information. Actions taken by an identity thief may include use of existing financial accounts, opening of new financial accounts (especially credit cards) in the name of the victim, and posing as the victim in online forums.
How Can I Tell if I'm a Victim of Identity Theft?
You can discover evidence of identity theft by finding actions taken in your name or on your accounts that you did not perform. Monitor the balances of your financial accounts and look for unexplained charges or withdrawals. Also, If an identity thief is opening new credit accounts in your name, these accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. You can check for this by ordering a free copy of your credit report from any of three major credit bureaus.
Other indications of identity theft:
- Failing to receive bills or other mail, signaling an address change by the identity thief;
- Receiving credit cards for which you did not apply;
- Denial of credit for no apparent reason; or
- Receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about goods or services you did not buy.
How can I keep my personal information safe?
Exercise caution with your personal information.
- Activate passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts.
- Do not share account numbers or passwords with anyone and do not write them in a place where they can be found by others.
- When creating your passwords, avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. When you're asked for your mother's maiden name on an application for a new account, try using a password instead.
- Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having service work done in your home.
- Ask about information security procedures in your workplace. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that your records are kept in a secure location. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well.
What do I do if I've been a victim of identity theft?
If you suspect that your personal information has been used to commit fraud or theft, take the following four steps right away. Remember to follow up all calls in writing; send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when; and keep copies for your files.
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your credit reports.
Call the toll-free fraud number of anyone of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts on your credit report, and all three reports will be sent to you free of charge.
- Equifax: 800-525-6285, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742), P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289, Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Once you receive your reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries you did not initiate, accounts you did not open, and unexplained debts on your true accounts. You also should check that information such as your SSN, address(es), name or initial, and employers are correct. Inaccuracies in this information also may be due to typographical errors. Nevertheless, whether the inaccuracies are due to fraud or error, you should notify the credit bureau as soon as possible by telephone and in writing.
You should continue to check your reports periodically, especially in the first year after you've discovered the theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred. The automated "one-call" fraud alert process only works for the initial placement of your fraud alert. Orders for additional credit reports or renewals of your fraud alerts must be made separately at each of the three major credit bureaus.
2. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
Credit accounts include all accounts with banks, credit card companies and other lenders, and phone companies, utilities, ISPs, and other service providers. If you're closing existing accounts and opening new ones, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords.
If there are fraudulent charges or debits, ask the company about the following forms for disputing those transactions.
- For new unauthorized accounts, ask if the company accepts the ID Theft Affidavit. If they don't, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms.
- For your existing accounts, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms.
If your card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card as soon as you can. Get a new card with a new PIN.
If your checks have been stolen or misused, close the account, and ask your bank to notify the appropriate check verification service. While no federal law limits your losses if someone steals your checks and forges your signature, state laws may protect you.
Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from a forged check, but they also require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely way that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.
You also should contact these major check verification companies. Ask that retailers who use their databases not accept your checks.
- TeleCheck: 800-710-9898 or 927-0188
- Certegy, Inc.: 800-437-5120
- International Check Services: 800-631-9656
Call SCAN at 800-262-7771 to find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name.
3. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
Keep a copy of the report. You may need it to validate your claims to creditors. If you can't get a copy, at least get the report number.
4. File a complaint with the FTC.
By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC also can refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and companies for further action. The FTC enters the information you provide into our secure database.
Additional information is available at http://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/alerts/theft.html.
A Special Word About Social Security Numbers
Your employer and financial institution will need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes and to meet Patriot Act identification requirements. Other private businesses may ask you for your SSN to do a credit check, such as when you apply for a car loan. Sometimes, however, they simply want your SSN for general record keeping. If someone asks for your SSN, ask the following questions:
- Why do you need it?
- How will it be used?
- How do you protect it from being stolen?
- What will happen if I don't give it to you?
If you don't provide your SSN, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want. Getting satisfactory answers to your questions will help you to decide whether you want to share your SSN with the business.
- Do not give out personal or sensitive information unless you can verify the legitimacy of the requestor.
- Do not discard personally identifiable information in the trash. Shred It.
- Verify browser security. If secure, then you will see pad lock in the address bar.
- Do not allow for remembering username and passwords.
- Be suspicious of all emails, even those received from previous interaction because their email account could be compromised. If you unexpectedly receive an email from a known address, then verify with sender before clicking a link, or opening attachment. Note: Try not to use the phone number located within the email in question.