What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone illegally obtains personal information about someone else for the purposes of impersonating them. This is often done for financial gain by creating debt for the victim, but can also be used to commit crimes using the assumed identity.
How do I protect myself from identity theft?1. Don't carelessly give out personal information, including Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card numbers or PINs, usernames, passwords or other items that should remain confidential. If someone contacts you asking for such information, be very careful. Legitimate companies will rarely ask for this kind of information when contacting you, either by mail, telephone or email. Also, a type of email spam called "phishing" has become more common, trying to trick victims into following a link to a forged website to enter account information. This is frequently seen targeting customers of banks and online merchants such as Amazon and Ebay. If you're uncertain about the email, don't follow the link, and log into the company's website normally instead.
2. Destroy unwanted documents that contain personal information before throwing them away. "Dumpster diving" is a common way for identity thieves to get information, in the form of discarded pre-approved credit card applications, bank statements, credit card receipts or other sensitive documents.
3. Check your bank and credit account statements regularly for unexpected charges or changes.
4. Check your credit report regularly for any unexpected changes.
How do I know if my identity has been stolen and misused?
Checking your credit report for unexpected changes is probably the most reliable way to detect identity theft.
How do I get a free copy of my credit report and how often can I do it?
You can get a free copy of a credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once per year. You can get all three reports at the same time, or request one from one agency, then request one from another agency at a different time. There are three ways to request a report:
Mail: Print and fill out the request form at from the website, then send it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281
I'm a victim of identity theft. What do I do now?
1. Notify the security departments of any involved creditors or financial institutions, and close any accounts that were opened fraudulently.
2. Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit reporting agencies and request that one of them place a "Fraud Alert" in your credit file. Once any one of these agencies receives a fraud alert request, it will forward the request to the other two agencies.
3. File a police report with local police or with police in the community where you believe the fraud took place.
4. Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission by filing a complaint at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
How do I contact the credit reporting agencies to report fraud?
Telephone: 1.800.525.6285 (to report fraud only)
Mail: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, Ga. 30374-0241
Telephone: 1.888.EXPERIAN (1.888.397.3742)
Mail: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, Tx. 75013
Mail: Fraud Victim Assistance Division
P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, Ca. 92834-6790
What is a Fraud Alert? How long does it last?
A fraud alert is a flag that the credit reporting agencies put in your file to instruct creditors to take extra precautions when opening accounts or issuing credit, such as additional verification of your identity. This can potentially slow down your credit application process somewhat, but it can protect your credit.
There are two types of fraud alerts:
1. An initial alert that lasts for 90 days
2. An extended alert that lasts for seven years. In addition, you are automatically removed from marketing lists for "pre-screened" or "pre-approved" credit accounts.
Where can I learn more about identity theft?
Federal Trade Commission's identity theft page: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/
U.S. Department of Education identification misuse page: http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/misused/index.html?src=rt