What Is Identity Theft?

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26th Jun 2014

According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S., with more than 12 million victims each year. Just being careful isn’t enough to protect your identity. (FTC.gov/idtheft)  Identity theft is a serious crime. It can disrupt your finances, ruin your credit history, your reputation, and take an enormous amount of time and money to resolve. Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information, such as name, address, bank account information, credit card information, etc., and uses it without your permission.


How do the thieves get your information?

• They may obtain confidential or private information regarding you by numerous means, including:

going through your trash cans, stealing bills, bank statements, credit card offers or other information from your mail box.

• they may work for businesses, medical offices, fast food businesses, or even government agencies, and steal personal information on the job.

• they may misuse the name of a real business, and call you on the phone and represent that they are from the power company, gas company, credit card company, etc, and ask you directly for confidential information such as your date of birth, mothers maiden name, account number, addresses, and so forth.

•  pretend to offer a job, a loan, lottery winnings, and ask you to send personal information to “qualify,” or pay shipping costs.

•  steal your wallet, purse, backpack, or mail, and remove your credit cards, driver’s license, health insurance card, or other items that show personal information.


How can you protect your information?

•   Review your credit reports on a frequent basis. You have a right to a free credit report every 12 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 a statement has mistakes or doesn’t come on time, contact the business.

•  Shred all documents that show personal, financial, and medical information before you throw them away.

•  Don’t respond to emails, texts, or phone messages that ask for personal information. Legitimate companies don’t ask for information this way. If you don’t recognize an email, delete the message without opening.

•  Create passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Don’t 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 there is any doubt, ask the company if their site is encrypted before producing any identifying information.

•  If you use a public wireless network, don’t send information to any website that isn’t 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 you are a victim of identity theft

Contact the credit reporting company immediately.

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.


Equifax 1-800-525-6285 Experian 1 -888-397-3 742 TransUnion 1-800-680-7289


Order your credit reports

Your credit reports differ between each company.  Accordingly, something may not show up on one report, but does show up on another credit reporting company’s report, so order a report from each company.  When you order your reports, you will be required to verify some information about yourself 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 as soon as possible.


Create an identity theft report with your local police department.

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 may have opened in your name.  To create an Identity Theft Report take the following steps:


1.  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.

2.   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.


The two documents comprise an Identity Theft Report.


Be vigilant.