ID theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft can cost you time and money. It can destroy your credit and ruin your good name.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets, purses, mail (bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, etc...), tax information, records, or bribe employees who have access.
- Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
Once they have your personal information, identity thieves use it in a variety of ways.
- Open new credit card accounts or loans in your name and don't pay the bills.
- Change the billing address on your credit card so that you no longer receive bills, and then run up charges on your account.
- Use your name to get utility services like electricity, heating, cable TV, or a new wireless phone.
- Create counterfeit checks using your name or account number.
- Open a checking account in your name and write bad checks.
- Clone your debit card and make electronic withdrawals, draining your accounts.
- Use your name and Social Security number to get government benefits.
- Get a job using your Social Security number.
- Rent a house or get medical services using your name.
Deter ID Theft
- Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information.
- Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
- Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you employ outside help or are having work done in your house.
Detect ID Theft
- Inspect your credit report, which contains information about what accounts you have and your bill paying history, annually.
- Be alerted if bills do not arrive as expected or unexpected credit cards or account statements appear.
- Receive calls or letters about purchases you did not make.
Defend against ID Theft
If your personal information is accidentally disclosed or deliberately stolen, taking certain steps quickly can minimize the potential for the theft of your identity.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Make sure to request that credit bureaus identify accounts closed due to fraud as "closed at consumer's request."
- Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
- File a complaint with the federal trade commission, www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
- Check with the post office for unauthorized change of address requests.
Visit FTC’s Identity Theft Site for more information.