What can I do to help avoid having my identity stolen?
There are several steps you can take to help deter someone from stealing your identity.
Buy a shredder. If you shred any paperwork that has personal information listed on it, it will prevent “dumpster divers” from retrieving the information and using it in fraudulent ways.
Safeguard your Social Security number. You should not carry your Social Security card in your wallet. It should also not be printed on your checks. Only give out your Social Security number if absolutely necessary. Set up “secret words” with banks and other financial entities that can be used to verify your identity.
Do not give out personal information. If you receive solicitation via phone, through the mail, or over the Internet, asking for personal information, do not give it to them. If you’ve initiated the contact and feel safe giving information, proceed with caution.
Be cautious about e-mail scams. If you receive an unsolicited e-mail message or a message asking for any type of confirmation of account information, do not click on any links shown in the message. Instead, actually type in the web address for that company. Keep firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software up-to-date to protect your computer.
Do not use an “easy” password. Never use birth dates, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number as your password.
Keep personal information secure. Find a secure area in your home to store personal information. This is especially important if you have roommates or are having someone come into your home to work.
I think someone obtained my personal information . . . what should I do?
If you’ve clicked on a link in a suspicious e-mail or gave your personal information to someone on the phone, it is very important that you are diligent in watching for identity theft. Someone may or may not have your information. You should give immediate attention to:
- Mail or bills that don’t arrive when you expect them to
- Receiving unexpected account statements in the mail
- Being denied for a loan or credit card when you are certain your credit rating should be fine
- Calls or correspondence about purchases you didn’t make, or accounts you didn’t open
If you don’t experience any of the above, but you still think someone could have your information, you should monitor your credit report and account statements. Your credit report will show all accounts in your name, with their balances and payment history. Check your account statements closely for any activity that you did not initiate.
You can obtain a copy of your credit report on an annual basis from AnnualCreditReport.com. The law requires the three major credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to give you a free copy once a year. You can visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. If you’d rather request it by mail, you can fill out an Annual Credit Report Request form (download the form at www.ftc.gov/freereports) and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
When monitoring your accounts, if you notice any unauthorized activity, treat it as identity theft and act on it quickly.
Your identity has been stolen . . . what should you do now?
File a Fraud Alert
If you think someone has stolen your identity, place a Fraud Alert on your credit report immediately. When creditors, such as banks and credit card companies, check your credit, they will see the alert and know they have a different set of procedures they have to follow. You may be asked for further identifying information or receive a follow-up contact from the creditor.
To place a fraud alert on your account, you should call one of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. They have toll-free phone numbers as listed below:
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
While talking with them about the fraud alert, you should also be able to request a copy of your credit report. Study the report, looking for inquiries from companies you’re unfamiliar with, accounts you don’t recall opening, and balances that you didn’t create.
If you have an account you know has been used/originated fraudulently, call the company that you have the account with and speak with their fraud department or the person that handles cases of fraud. Let them know that you did not authorize the charges, and that you’d like to close the account right away. Follow up with written documentation if requested. You might consider using the Identity Theft Affidavit that can be found at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
After the company has had sufficient time to close out the account, ask for written verification that the account has been closed, and that the fraudulent charges have been cleared. You should keep copies of any documentation you have, as well as records of your conversations with anyone regarding the fraudulent activity.
Some creditors may want proof of the crime, which could require you to file a police report. You can always report a complaint to the FTC. A report to them can assist law enforcement agents with their investigations. You can contact the FTC:
By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY 1-866-653-4261