Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, yet many people do not know what it is, how it occurs, and how to guard against it.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal financial information to take advantage of your good credit. The identity thief leaves behind the stain of bad credit on accounts in your name in his wake. There are many methods by which a thief can obtain your personal information. Some of these methods are:
- Stealing your purse or wallet,
- Stealing bank statements, credit card receipts, or loan applications,
- Watching your transactions in public to capture your personal identification number (PIN),
- Obtaining personal financial information by requesting your participation in a survey,
- Calling saying you have won a prize and they need your financial information to bill you for shipping and handling, and
- Hacking into computer databases containing your information
When someone steals your name, your Social Security number (SSN), your credit card or debit card number, or some other piece of personal information – it’s a crime!
Unfortunately, you generally won’t know your identity has been stolen until you receive bills for credit cards you never opened, your credit report includes debts you never had, a billing cycle passes without you receiving your statement, or seeing charges on your bills that you do not know anything about.
If you are a victim of identity theft, you should take the following steps immediately:
- Contact the fraud department of each of the three major credit bureaus. Ask that a fraud alert including a statement that creditors should get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name be placed on your credit report.
- Ask the credit bureaus for copies of your credit reports. Copies must be provided free of charge if information contained on them is inaccurate due to fraud. Order new copies of the credit reports in a few months to verify that there has not been any new fraudulent activity.
- Contact your credit union.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by contacting their hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338).
To protect your identity:
- Before revealing personal identifying information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared.
- Retain all receipts and reconcile them to your bill as soon as you receive it. Follow up with creditors if you do not receive your bill on time.
- Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary.
- Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry. If possible, it is best to only carry one debit card and one credit card.
- Order a copy of your credit report every year to be sure that the information being reported is accurate.
If you would like further information here are some other helpful websites: