To quote the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. Types of identity theft fraud include credit card fraud, phone or utilities fraud, bank fraud, employment-related fraud, and government documents or benefits fraud. The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
How is your information stolen?
Identity thieves have various ways of stealing your personal information:
- Trash Picking – Rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with personal information.
- Skimming – Theft of credit/debit card numbers by using special storage devices when processing your transaction.
- Phishing – Generally, this pertains to emails that appear to come from institutions with which you may or may not have a business relationship, with the intent to get you to disclose personal account information
- Changing Your Address – Thieves divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing – Theft of wallets, purses, mail (including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information), and personnel records (including bribing employees who have access to such records.)
- Pretexting – Using false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
How is identity theft discovered?
Identity theft is usually discovered when you:
- Are denied credit and / or an account
- Get numerous pre-approval offers
- Are called by a collection agency
- Are denied a driver’s license, tuition, employment, a utility service, etc
How can I protect myself from identity theft?
- Destroy credit / debit cards that are not activated, are expired , or not in use.
- Don’t give out personal information over the phone, in the mail, through email, or over the internet unless you initiate the contact.
- Shred confidential information.
- Don’t keep Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) with cards.
- Review statements promptly
- Know your billing cycles and contact creditors if bills don’t arrive on time.
- Report billing discrepancies immediately
- Carry only the credit / debit card you plan to use.
- Ask how personal information will be stored.
- Secure your personal information in your home.
- Order a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus annually.
What should I do if I'm a victim of identity theft?
- File a complaint with the FTC online or by calling 877.438.4338.
- Notify the creditors, financial institutions, or utility services that are involved.
- Stop payment on all checks.
- Close affected accounts.
- Notify major check verification companies if checks are stolen or used fraudulently (Chex Systems or a similar verification company).
- Notify the DMV
- Get a new Visa Debit Card / ATM card / PIN or password
- File a report with the police department where the crime occurred and keep a copy of the report.
- Contact the credit bureau fraud departments to place a fraud alert on your consumer credit reports.
- Equifax – 800.525.6285
- Experian – 888.397.3742
- TransUnion – 800.680.7289
- Keep track of all contacts and actions taken to report the theft.