Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
We frequently are asked what actions people can take to protect themselves against identity theft.
Minimize Your Risk:
To help minimize your risk or minimize damage if a problem develops, you can do the following to make it more difficult for identity thieves to access your personal information.
- Protect your social security number: don't carry your social security card in your wallet and only write or give out when absolutely necessary. Never give out your social security number over the phone.
- Treat your trash and mail carefully: thieves pick through trash to capture personal information. Shred personal information whenever possible.
- Don't let your credit card out of your line of sight. A card can be duplicated within seconds without your knowledge.
- Be on guard when using the internet: use security on your computer and use only secure sites you know are safe before offering personal information.
- Verify a source before sharing information: don't give out personal information over the phone, through mail, or the internet unless you are sure they are a safe source.
- Select intricate passwords: place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid using information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date or last four digits of your social security number.
- Safeguard your purse or wallet: protect your purse and wallet at all times. Carry only credit cards that you actually need. *
- Store information in secure locations: keep personal information in secure places at home. Ask for information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctors, or institutions that collect your personally indentifying information. Find out if your information will be shared.
- If you pay your bills by mail with a personal check, drop the bill off in a marked U.S. postal container. If the check doesn't arrive to the creditor, watch your account closely for discrepancies.
* Note: If you work out in a gym; lock up your wallet or purse. If unlocked, the fraudsters will take pictures of your personal I.D, credit cards or checks with their phone. Victims are unaware of the security breech because nothing is missing.
The best way to detect identity theft is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and check your credit report on a regular basis. To order your free annual credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free at 877-322-8228.
Stay alert for other signs of identity theft such as:
- accounts you didn't open and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
- fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit reports, including accounts and personal information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name orinitials, and employers.
- failing to receive bills or other mail. 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.
- receiving credit cards that you didn't apply for.
- being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason.
- getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn't buy.
How do you find out if you identity was stolen?
- You may find out when bill collection agencies contact you for overdue debts; debts you never incurred.
- You may find out when you apply for a mortgage or carloan and learn that problems with your credit history are holding up the loan.
- You may find out when you get something in the mail about an apartment you never rented, a house you never bought, or a job you never held.
If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible, and keep a record with the details of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports. This will help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. You only need to contact one of the three companies below to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two.:
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
- Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Call and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each company. Follow up in writing, and include copies (NOT originals) of supporting documents.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. You can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form; or call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). Be sure to call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.
- File a report with your local law enforcement or law enforcement in the community where the identity theft took place. Call your local law enforcement and tell them that you want to file a report about your identity theft. Tell them that you need a copy of the Identity Theft Report (the police report with your ID Theft Complaint attached or incorporated) to dispute the fraudulent accounts and debts created by the identity thief.