What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Oftentimes, the person will use your personal information to try and obtain credit in your name with no intention of ever paying it back. Victims of identity theft often don't learn about the crime until they are denied credit elsewhere for having a bad credit history.
What is personal information?
Your personal information includes, but is not limited to:
Mail -- Identity thieves may go through your mail looking for personal information such as bank statements or even check payments that you are making.
Trash -- Some thieves will go through your trash to find bank or credit card statements, receipts, credit applications, etc.
Wallet/Purse -- One of the most common ways your identity is stolen.
Home -- Some home invaders take the time to shift through your personal belongings in order to find personal information including birth certificates, bank statements and check books.
Family & Friends -- Sadly, you are just as likely to have your identity stolen by someone you know as you are a stranger.
Computers -- Thieves may gain access to your personal information through websites or malware programs unknowingly installed on your computer.
Businesses -- Sometimes identity thieves can bribe employees with access to personal information to give that information out. Other times, personal information may be leaked through computer security breaches.
Email & Phone -- More commonly, identity thieves are using emails and phone calls to pretend to be a representative from a real company and try to trick you into giving them your personal information.
Monitor your bank and credit card statements for unusual charges.
Monitor your credit report for any unusual activity. You are allowed one free credit report a year through https://www.annualcreditreport.com/.
Receiving unexpected bills or collection calls for accounts you did not open or goods you did not buy.
Not receiving expected bills or statements for your current accounts. Someone may have accessed your account and changed your billing address or may have stolen your mail.
Protect Your Mail -- Try to avoiding leaving your mail in your mail box for long periods of time. If you are mailing sensitive material, including payments, it is better to mail from a secure location such as the post office.
Protect Your Trash -- Shred any personal information before throwing it away. If you don't have a shredder, use a dark marker to thoroughly cross out the information.
Don't Carry Information You Don't Need -- Don't keep your social security card or you PIN in your purse or wallet unless you absolutely must have it.
Know Where Your Documents and Cards Are -- A common source for identity theft is through theft. Make sure to keep tabs on your bank statements, credit cards, etc. The sooner you notice they are missing, the sooner you can take action.
Store Your Information -- Don't leave personal information laying around your home or office.
Be Safe Online -- Use an anti-virus and/or anti-spyware program on your computer. Make sure you keep the program(s) up-to-date. Also, make sure that you create ideal passwords for logging into your online accounts.
Never Respond to Emails Asking For Personal Information -- Companies will not contact you and ask for personal information through email. At most, they might ask you to visit a website and update your information. Be very careful opening links in emails. Identity thieves can make their fake emails look very much like the real thing. Legit emails will always be addressed to you by name. Any email addressed to "user" or "member" is not legit. Anytime that you are in doubt, go to the original website and log in that way.
Be Careful Giving Out Information Over the Phone -- Be careful giving out information over the phone, especially your social security number and credit card number. Whenever you have any doubt about the identity of the person on the phone, hang up and call the company directly.
Starting point for dealing with Identity Theft: www.identytheft.gov
If you believe that you are the victim of identity theft, the following can help you regain your identity:
File a "Fraud Alert" with the three major credit reporting agencies:
File an identity theft report with the police.
Close any account(s) that you believe may have been tampered with.
Contact the original company/business immediately. The company may require you to send in a fraud affidavit. Anytime you mail anything to the company, send it through certified mail.
File an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ or 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
Place a security freeze on your credit report to prevent further instances of identity theft.