How can someone steal your identity? Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number (SSN), credit card number, or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years - and their hard-earned money - cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing, or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit.
How the Thief Gets Your Personal Information
- Stealing your purse or wallet
- Pilfering information such as bank statements and pre-approved credit card applications from your mailbox.
- Posing as your employer, loan officer, or landlord to get your credit reports.
- Going through trash for credit card carbons or loan applications.
- Watching transactions at automated teller machines to capture your PIN.
How to Minimize the Risk
- Never carry your SSN in your wallet or diary or printed on checks.
- Guard your SSN closely, giving it out only to official authorities or businesses you trust. Some firms will accept another identifier if you ask.
- Be careful how you dispose of documents. Ideally, shred them.
- Exercise your right to stop your credit header being sold, which will also stop pre-approved offers of credit. Call the credit bureaus' special toll-free line at 888-567-8688.
- Don't post personal information on the internet; for example, on genealogical or college reunion sites.
- Check your credit report at least once a year.
If You Are Victimized
- Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or Trans Union) to place a fraud alert on your credit file. The fraud alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts, and all three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge.
- Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
- File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
- File your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps them learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that we can better assist you.