Identity theft is a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of personal information, such as Social Security or driver's license numbers, in order to impersonate someone else. The information can be used to obtain credit, merchandise, and services in the name of the victim.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is categorized in two ways: true name and account takeover. True name identity theft means that the thief uses personal information to open new accounts. The thief might open a new credit card account, establish cellular phone service, or open a new checking account in order to obtain blank checks.
Account takeover identity theft means the imposter uses personal information to gain access to the person's existing accounts. Typically, the thief will change the mailing address on an account and run up a huge bill before the person whose identity has been stolen realizes there is a problem.
Protect Yourself and Minimize Your Risk
While you probably can't prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously, and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft.
What you can do today:
- Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Make sure it's accurate and includes only those activities you've authorized.
- Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.
- Place passwords on your bank, credit card and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
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Ongoing Prevention Measures
- Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year. By checking your report on a regular basis, you can catch mistakes and fraud before they wreak havoc on your personal finances.
- Don't 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.
- Guard your mail and trash from theft. 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 to request a vacation hold.
- Shred or cross-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. Unsure of when to destroy sensitive documents you no longer need? Use this
general guide to get started.
- Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary.
- Carry only the identification information and number of credit and debit cards that you'll actually need. Don't carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time.
What To Do If You’re a Victim
At a minimum, you should do the following:
- Place fraud alerts with credit bureaus
- Experian: 888-397-3742
- Equifax: 800-525-6285
- TransUnion: 800-680-7289
- File a complaint with the ID Theft Hotline: 877-ID THEFT
- Check credit report information and review accounts
- Alert your financial institution of the situation
- Close accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently
- File a police report (and keep a copy of the report for your records)