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.
Checking your credit report for unexpected changes is probably the most reliable way to detect identity theft.
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
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.
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
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.
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