What is identity
How can someone steal your
identity? Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal
information such as your name, Social Security number, credit
card number or other identifying information, without your
permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity theft is a serious
crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months
or years - and their hard-earned money - cleaning up the mess
thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the
meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans,
education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they
How do they go about
stealing my identity?
Identity thieves may use a
variety of low- and high-tech methods to gain access to your
personally identifying information. For example:
get information from businesses or institutions by:
stealing records from their employer,
bribing an employee who has access to the records,
conning information out of employees, or
hacking into the organization's computers.
rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or dumps
in a practice known as "dumpster diving."
obtain credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized
access to credit reports or by posing as a landlord, employer
or someone else who may have a legitimate need for and a legal
right to the information.
steal credit and debit card account numbers as your card is
processed by using a special information storage device in a
practice known as "skimming."
steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit
and debit cards.
steal mail, including bank and
credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new
checks, or tax information.
complete a "change of address form" to divert mail to another
steal personal information from your home.
scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business
person or government official.
How can I tell if I'm a
victim of identity theft?
of these indications could be a result of a simple error, you
should not assume that there’s been a mistake and do nothing.
Always follow up with the business or institution to find out.
What can I do to
As with any
crime, you can't guarantee that you
will never be a victim, but you can minimize your risk.
By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and
with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against
give out personal information on the phone, through the mail
or over the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or
are sure you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves
may pose as representatives of banks,
Internet service providers (ISPs) and even government agencies
to get you to reveal your SSN, mother's maiden name, account
numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share
any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a
legitimate organization. You can check the organization's Web
site as many companies post scam alerts when their name is
used improperly, or you can call customer service using the
number listed on your account statement or in the telephone
carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.
personal information in your home, especially if you have
roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done
in your home.
your mail and trash from theft:
Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at
your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox.
Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning
to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, call the
U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation
hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local
post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive
thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or
recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or
shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications,
insurance forms, physician statements, checks and
bank statements, expired charge
cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in
the mail. If you do
not use the pre-screened credit card offers you receive in
the mail, you can opt out by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT
(1-888-567- 8688). Please note that you will be asked for
your Social Security number in order for the credit bureaus
to identify your file so that they can remove you from their
lists and you still may receive some credit offers because
some companies use different lists from the credit bureaus’
only the identification information and the number of credit
and debit cards that you'll actually need.
passwords on your credit card, bank
and phone accounts. 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 opening new accounts, you may find
that many businesses still have a line on their applications
for your mother's maiden name. Use a password instead.
about information security procedures in your workplace or at
businesses, doctor's offices or other institutions that
collect personally identifying information from you. Find out
who has access to your personal information and verify that it
is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for
those records as well. Find out if your information will be
shared with anyone else. If so, ask if you can keep your
your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other
types of identifiers when possible. If your state uses your
SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another
number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your
SSN as your account number.
attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if
your bills don't arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an
identity thief has taken over your account and changed your
billing address to cover his tracks.
wary of promotional scams. Identity thieves may use phony
offers to get you to give them your personal information.
your purse or wallet in a safe place at work as well as any
copies you may keep of administrative forms that contain your
all unused credit accounts.
ordering new checks, pick them up at the
bank, rather than having them sent to your home
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
find out by ordering a copy of your credit report from any of
major credit bureaus.
Check your report carefully to make sure it is accurate.
If you do find any inaccurate information, you should check your
reports from the other two credit bureaus. Note: If your
personal information has been lost or stolen, you should check
all of your reports more frequently for the first year.
A great way to keep tabs on your identity,
and find out FAST if someone is opening accounts or credit cards
in your name, is by checking your credit report. And
you can do it for free! A recent amendment to
the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of
the nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with
a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every
12 months, from
www.annualcreditreport.com. The Federal Trade Commission
(FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency provides Access to Free Credit Reports,
which explains your rights
and how to order a free annual credit report.
Since you get one free report from each of the 3 bureaus per
year, do not request them all at once. Spread them out, since
you then get three free "snapshots" of your credit per year -
all the better to thwart Identity Theft!