Identity Theft is a serious crime. People whose sensitive personal information has been stolen can spend substantial time and money cleaning up the mess criminals have made of their good name and credit record. The consequences could be lost job opportunities or damaged credit. Some victims have even been arrested for crimes they didn't commit.
How do thieves obtain personal information?
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of ways to gain access to your personal information. For example, they may:
- Steal your wallet or purse.
- Steal your mail.
- Rummage through your trash or public trash sites
- Collect your information through email phishing or phone scams, often pretending they are from a legitimate company, and/or claiming you have a problem on your account.
Has someone stolen your personal information?
If you fear someone has stolen your personal information, following are some indications that identity theft may have occurred:
- Failing to receive bills or other mail on time.
- Receiving credit cards for which you did not apply.
- Denial of credit for no apparent reason.
- Receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about products or services you did not purchase.
Precautions you should take:
- Carefully monitor the balances and statements of all your financial accounts.
- Look for unexplained charges or withdrawals.
- Place complex passwords on all of your financial accounts (include upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters).
- Limit the number of credit cards or other identifying information that you carry daily.
- Shred any identifying information before discarding it.
- Update the virus protection software on your PC regularly; do not open files from strangers or companies you do not recognize.
- Use a "wipe" utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive before disposing of a computer.
ID Theft Victims Immediate StepsIf you are the victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible, and keep records of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.
1. Place a "fraud alert" on your credit reports, and add a "victims statement" to your file requesting that creditors contact you before opening new accounts in your name.
2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Call and speak to someone in the security or fraud department. Follow up in writing sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.
3. File a "miscellaneous incidents" report at a police station where the identity theft occurred, and get a copy of the police report. It can help you deal with creditors who need proof of the crime.
4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You can file a complaint online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft; call 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20580.