Identity Theft FAQ's
1. How Does Identity Theft Happen?
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal your personal 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 and purses and mail. They steal personnel records from their employers or bribe employees who have access.
2. How Can I Avoid ID Theft?
Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information:
- Shred financial documents and paperwork with person information before you discard them.
- Protect your Social Security Number. 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. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date.
Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements:
- Be alert to signs that require immediate attention (bills that do not arrive as expected, unexpected credit cards or account statements, denials of credit for no apparent reason, calls or letters about purchases you did not make).
- Inspect your credit report and your financial statements.
Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect it.
- Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports by calling one of the three national credit reporting bureaus. Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you have not contacted, accounts you have not opened, and debts on your accounts you cannot explain.
- Close accounts. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
- File a police report. File a report with law enforcement officials to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov idtheft or by telephone at (877) 438-4338.