Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception.
Unlike your fingerprints, which are unique to you and cannot be given to someone else, your personal data (Social Security number, bank account, credit card number, and other valuable identifying data) can be used maliciously for profit at your expense if it falls into the wrong hands.
The result for identity theft victims is often out-of-pocket financial losses and the financial costs of restoring the victim's identity.
How to Avoid Identity Theft:
- Never write your PIN (Personal Identification Number) on any of your ATM cards.
- Only take ATM and credit cards you need for personal or business purchases when you leave your home.
- Carefully review the specific transactions charged to your account before paying the bill.
- If any transactions look fraudulent, call the credit card company.
- Shred monthly bank statements, credit-card bills, or other documents with personal financial information on them before throwing them in the trash.
- Tear up or shred pre-approved credit card solicitations when you don't want to accept or activate that card.
- Request a copy of your credit report at least once a year--you can get one free credit report from each of the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) every year.
- If the volume of the mail you get at home has dropped off substantially, check with the local post office to see if anyone has improperly filed a change-of-address card in your name.
Key Warning Signs that You May Be a Victim of Identity Theft:
- Bills for goods/services appear on your bank statements that you don't recall purchasing.
- Don't ignore the small charges either. Crooks sometimes do a test with a small purchase to see if you will notice. If the charges look strange, check it out right way.
- Statements show up for an unknown credit card.
- Armed with the right information, a thief can open credit cards in your name, in hopes of going on a shopping spree before they get caught.
- A new credit card store charge card that you didn’t apply for shows up in the mail.
- An ID thief pretending to be you may have applied for that card. Don’t assume it’s a mistake. Contact the company right away.
- Collection notices or calls for a debt you don’t owe.
- It could be an honest mistake. It could be that an ID thief is using your personal information to buy things.
- There are errors on your credit report:
- You have the right to a free report every 12 months from the big three credit bureaus
- examples: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion
- Get a report from one of the bureaus every four months and look for anything suspicious, such as an account you didn’t open or credit inquiries when you didn’t apply for credit. Use this site: annualcreditreport.com.
- You have good credit, but an application for credit is denied
- Don’t get upset; find out what’s going on. An identity thief could have mucked-up your credit file and ruined your credit score.
- Missing mail or email
- There could be a problem if the monthly statement from your bank or credit card company suddenly stops. A thief may have filed a change of address form to get that statement and keep you from spotting his dirty work for as long as possible.
Courtesy of The Identity Theft Resource Center
If you think you are the victim of identity theft, immediately contact:
- The Federal Trade Commission to report the situation and get guidance on how to deal with it.
- The three major credit bureaus to inform them of the situation.
- Your local police department to have an officer take a report.
- Any businesses where the identity thief fraudulently conducted transactions in your name.
- US Department of Justice (external link)