What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission; it is very a serious crime. Moreover, it can disrupt your finances, credit history, and reputation; and it can take time, money, and patience to resolve.
Here is a list of things identity thieves might do to obtain personal information:
- Identity thieves have been known to go through trash cans and dumpsters, stealing bills and documents that have sensitive information.
- They may even work for businesses, medical offices, or government agencies, and steal personal information on the job.
- It is possible that identity thieves could misuse the name of a legitimate business, and call or send emails that trick you into revealing personal information.
- Identity thieves could pretend to offer a job, a loan, or an apartment to you, and ask you to send personal information to “qualify.”
- Identity thieves could even steal your wallet, purse, pocketbook, backpack, or mail; and remove your credit cards, driver’s license, passport, health insurance card, and/or other items that show personal information.
How to Protect Your Information
- Read your credit reports. You have a right to a free credit report every twelve months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order all three reports at once, or order one report every four months. To order, go to annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
- Read your bank, credit card, and account statements, and the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan. If an account statement contains errors, or it does not come on time, contact the business.
- Shred all documents that show personal, financial, and medical information before you throw them away.
- Do not respond to email, text, and phone messages that request personal information; legitimate businesses do not ask for information this way. Delete the messages.
- Create passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Do not use the same password for more than one account.
- If you shop or bank online, use websites that protect your financial information with encryption. An encrypted site has “https” at the beginning of the web address; “s” is for secure.
- If you use a public wireless network, do not send information to any website that is not fully encrypted.
- Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall on your computer. Set your computer’s operating system, web browser, and security system to update automatically.
What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen
(1) Flag Your Credit Reports
Call one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you call must contact the other two so they can put fraud alerts on your files. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days. You can contact the credit reporting companies at (1) Equifax 1-800-525-6285, (2) Experian 1-888-397-3742, and (3) TransUnion 1-800-680-7289.
(2) Order Your Credit Reports
Each company’s credit report about you is slightly different, so it is a good idea to order a report from each company. When you order, you must answer some questions to prove your identity. Read your reports carefully to see if the information is correct. If you see mistakes or signs of fraud, contact the credit reporting company.
(3) Create an Identity Theft Report
An Identity Theft Report can help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop a company from collecting debts caused by identity theft, and get information about accounts a thief opened in your name.
There are two necessary steps when you create an Identity Theft Report:
- File a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint or 1-877-438-4338; TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Your completed complaint is called an FTC Affidavit.
- Take your FTC Affidavit to your local police, or to the police where the theft occurred, and file a police report. Get a copy of the police report.
Here is a list of “red flags” of identity theft with which you should be familiar:
- Errors on your bank, credit card, or other account statements.
- Errors on the explanation of medical benefits for your health plan.
- Your regular bills and account statements do not arrive on time.
- Bills or collection notices for products or services you never received.
- Calls from debt collectors about debts that do not belong to you.
- A notice from the IRS that someone used your social security number.
- Mail, email, or calls about accounts or jobs in your minor child’s name.
- Unwarranted collection notices on your credit report.
- Businesses turn down your checks.
- You are turned down unexpectedly for a loan or job.