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Identity Theft

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone steals personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number, or other identifying information and uses it as their own. This person may try to make purchases, take out loans, withdraw money, or commit some other type of fraud by impersonating you.

How Identity Thieves Work

Identity thieves attempt to gain access to your personal information in several ways:

  • Stealing mail from your mailbox, especially credit card offers or statements, bank account statements and checks, and tax-related information;

  • Rummaging through your trash (“dumpster diving”);

  • Hacking your personal cell phone or computer;

  • Stealing your purse or wallet;

  • Watching and listening when you input credit card numbers, PINs, phone numbers, etc. in public areas (“shoulder surfing”);

  • Browsing social networks for personal information;

  • Hacking computer networks;

  • Sending fake emails from trusted organizations requesting personal information or login credentials (“phishing”); or

  • Searching discarded electronic equipment for information that wasn’t properly erased before disposal.

Basically, any place you have personal information stored is a potential target for identity thieves.

Once identity thieves gain access to your personal information, they may try to

  • open new credit card or bank accounts in your name;

  • purchase a cell phone, automobile, or other expensive item;

  • use your credit card for online purchases;

  • contact your credit card company to have the bill routed to a different address so you won’t see the charges on your bill;

  • withdraw money from your accounts;

  • take out a loan; or

  • obtain fraudulent documentation such as a driver’s license or passport.

Preventing Identity Theft

You should protect your personal information just as you would protect your most prized possession. Any place you have your information stored physically or electronically needs to be closely guarded and monitored regularly by doing the following:

  • Use a shredder to destroy documents you do not want to keep that have personal information on them.

  • Keep your antivirus software updated on your computer.

  • Do not give out personal information over the phone or online.

  • Use strong passwords on your online accounts.

  • Make online purchases only from secure websites. Secure websites will have a URL that starts with https: instead of http: and will have a closed padlock icon close to the address bar.

  • Don’t keep your passwords or PINs in your purse or wallet.

  • Consider purchasing a password manager program or app for your computer and cell phone.

  • Do not carry your Social Security card with you.

  • Monitor your credit report regularly. You can order a free credit report once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. 

Resolving Issues with Identity Theft

Despite your best efforts, you may one day be the victim of identity theft. If that should happen, you must act quickly in order to prevent further fraud. Follow these steps to get started:

  • Contact one of the three credit reporting agencies and report the identity theft. The law requires the company you call to contact the other two agencies. All three agencies will put a fraud alert on your account. You can contact the agencies at the numbers below:

  • Close any bank or credit card accounts that you believe have been used fraudulently or opened without your knowledge.

  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT. The FTC maintains a database that law enforcement officials can use to track down identity thieves.

  • File a report with your local police department or sheriff’s office. This report will be useful when you talk to your creditors who have been victimized as a result of your identity theft.

For more information about identity theft, visit The Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Site, The U.S. Department of Justice, or The Identity Theft Resource Center.