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Identity Theft

Things You Should Know About...

Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone uses personal information such as your name, social security number, or bank account number without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft.

How do Identity Thieves Get My Personal Information?

Identity thieves operate in a variety of ways and may use some of the following tactics to get your information:

  • Stealing your ID cards, credit cards, and bank cards

  • Stealing your mail, including account statements, pre-approved credit card offers, and tax information

  • Buying your personal information from sources such as employees at stores, restaurants, or hotels

  • Getting your information off the Internet

How do Identity Thieves Use My Personal Information?

Identity thieves typically open new bank or credit card accounts in your name or change the mailing address for your existing accounts so they can use them without your knowledge. When the thieves use the accounts without paying the bills, the delinquent accounts are noted on your credit report.

What Should I do If I Become a Victim of Identity Theft?

If you're a victim of identity theft, take immediate action to prevent continued use of your personal information.

  • Report the identity theft to the police. Ask for a copy of the report to show your creditors and financial institutions if necessary.

  • Contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) and report the theft to their fraud units. Ask each agency to put a "fraud alert" in your file and contact you before allowing new accounts to be opened or existing accounts to be changed. Request reports from each agency, and review them carefully. After a few months, request new reports to make sure they are correct.

  • Call your creditors and financial institutions. Close all accounts that have been opened or accessed by identity thieves. Ask for passwords to secure new accounts.

Other Steps to Take

  • If someone has stolen your mail, notify your local postal inspector.

  • If you suspect that someone is applying for a job with your Social Security number, contact the Social Security Administration to make sure your income and name have been reported correctly and accurately. You may check your Social Security Statement by calling 1-800-772-1213.

  • If you suspect that someone is trying to get a driver's license with your Social Security number or other personal information, notify the Department of Motor Vehicles.

How Can I Keep My Personal Information Safe?

To minimize your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, follow these basic guidelines.

  • If you are asked to disclose personal information, ask the requester how the information will be used and if they will share your information with anyone else.

  • Know when your mail gets delivered and pick it up as soon as possible. Consider purchasing a secure mailbox that is difficult for thieves to gain access to. Never allow your mail to build up while you are out of town.

  • Know when your bills are due to arrive. If they are late, contact your creditors.

  • Keep your personal information and all items containing your personal information (such as account statements, receipts, and forms) in a secure location. When you no longer need these items, tear them up before throwing them away.

  • Leave your Social Security card in a safe place. Do not disclose your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary.

  • Only carry the identification and credit cards you need. Leave the rest in a secure location.

Protecting Personal Information On Your Computer

Now more than ever it is important to be extra careful when storing or providing personal information on your computer. Identity thieves can not only crack personal information stored on the large servers of Internet Service Providers and E-Commerce sites, but can also place programs on your personal computer that can retrieve any data, software, or personal information stored on your hard drive. To avoid identity theft via computer, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Watch out for merchants who offer prices that seem too good to be true and don't provide any offline way to contact them or verify their validity. This especially applies to offers you receive via e-mail in the form of spam.

  • Don't post private information on discussion lists or forums, even if they claim to be private.

  • Keep passwords off your computer and have different passwords for each site that requires them. Make sure they are not obvious words, consecutive number strings, or anything that would be easy for someone to guess.

  • Always run good, up-to-date antivirus software and a personal firewall.

Remember ...One of the best ways to minimize your risk of identity theft is to request a copy of your credit report each year and check it to make sure there are no inaccuracies or inconsistencies.

Contact each of the following major credit reporting agencies for a copy of your report:

  • Equifax: 1-800-685-1111

  • Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)

  • Trans Union: 1-800-916-8800

Additionally, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission publishes an electronic book titled, "When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name," pdf document.

Information from the Web sites of the BBB and FTC .

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