What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone illegally obtains important personal identifying information from another person in order to impersonate them to commit fraud. The personal identifying information can be items such as the other person's name, address, date of birth, social security number, account numbers and PIN numbers. The identity thief uses this information to assume the victim's financial identity, enabling the thief to take over the victims existing accounts, apply for loans, credit cards, purchase automobiles and homes, and establish services from fee-based companies like telephone and utility providers.
Types of Identity Theft
Identity theft can occur in a variety of ways:
- Telephone Scams: Pretending to be someone else over the phone in order to gain access to account or personal information. Learn more.
- Email Scams: Pretending to be a financial institution or legitimate business in order to gain access to account or personal information. Phishing is one example using email or instant messaging appearing as trustworthy source. It’s a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information including usernames, passwords and credit details. Learn more.
- Shoulder Surfing: Looking over ones shoulder in order to gain access to account log in information or ATM Pin. Learn more.
- Dumpster Diving: Searching through someone's trash in order to gain access to sensitive information.
Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
To reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Never give personal information (social security number, date of birth, account numbers, PIN numbers, etc.) over the phone or on the internet unless you initiated the call and you know how that information will be used.
- Protect yourself from phishing scammers by determining if the email comes from a legitimate source. Look for telltale signs such as an unfamiliar URL, spelling and grammatical errors, and a false sense of urgency. Do not click on links, open attachments, or fill out personal information.
- Make sure websites that you have chosen to visit have a closed padlock or key icon in the corner of the screen before providing personal information.
- Buy a cross-cut shredder and use it to destroy pre-approved credit applications, credit card receipts and other financial information. Dumpster Diving is a term used when a criminal looks through someone’s trash in order to retrieve sensitive information. A shredder helps protect your personal information.
- Send outgoing mail from a secure post office mail box; never leave mail at your home's mailbox.
- Memorize your social security number and PIN numbers. Do not write this information on cards or papers that you keep in your wallet and do not imprint your social security number on your checks.
- Sign all new credit cards as soon as you receive them.
- Cancel any credit cards that you do not use.
- Review your credit report at least once a year. You can review one credit report per credit agency (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) per year.
What To Do If You Believe You Are A Victim Of Identity Theft
- Contact all creditors by phone and in writing to alert them to the problem.
- Close all accounts that could be compromised.
- Call your nearest US Postal Inspection Service AND your local police department.
- Contact your bank to report any unusual activity. Change your PIN and any other passwords associated with your accounts.
- Contact the fraud units of ALL three credit bureaus to report identity theft. Ask to have a "Hawk Alert" or "Fraud Alert/Victim Impact" statement placed in your credit file. This requires that any new applications for credit or bank accounts and changes of address be verified by you. Contact the Social Security Administration's Fraud Hotline and the Federal Trade Commission.
- Contact your Department of Motor Vehicles to report a lost or stolen driver's license immediately. Ask if any duplicate driver's licenses have been issued in your name or social security number.
- Keep a log of all your creditor contacts and retain copies of all signed documents.
- Free, personalized identity theft recovery plans, as well as other easy-to-use tools, are available through the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft website.
Contacts To Report Identity Theft
- Your local police department