In simple terms, identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes.
What Is Identity Theft?
Preventing Identity Theft
Following are tips to help you protect your personal information from identity thieves.
- Never leave your mail unattended in a mailbox that is accessible to the public.
- If you are mailing a bill, put it directly in a postal drop box or take it to the post office to ensure it is posted safely.
- If you are going out of town, have the post office hold your mail or make sure a trusted person picks it up daily for you.
- Only pay your bills online using a secure site. Do not to input your credit card number into an Internet page unless it is encrypted.
- When you are creating online passwords, remember: the longer, the better. Also, try to include a mix of capitals letters, numbers, and symbols to increase security.
- Try to commit all your passwords to memory.
Identity thieves use many tricks to steal your information at the ATM. Some will attempt to take a photo of your credit or debit card while you are standing at the ATM; some may put illegal card readers over the ATM’s reader to steal your information. When using an ATM, take the following precautions:
- Make sure the person behind you is standing at a reasonable distance.
- Try to shield your card with your hand at all times to prevent someone from seeing the numbers on the card.
- Always double check the card reader before you input your card. Does it look loose? Does it seem too bulky? If so, give it a tug.
- Shred, shred, shred! Make sure you shred any financial statements, billing statements, and especially any pre-approved credit card offers you may receive.
- Remember to monitor your credit report regularly to ensure there are no fraudulent charges or incorrect personal information (such as an address where you never lived).
- Carry the bare minimum in your purse or wallet—never carry your Social Security card or birth certificate with you. Also, try to limit the number of credit cards you carry.
Think Before You Disclose
- Before giving someone your Social Security Number or other personal information over the phone, ask why they are asking for this information: Is it necessary to give it to them? Can you provide them with any other information such as a policy number or even a telephone number to access your account?
- Remember that there are other ways companies and businesses can identify your account without requiring you to provide your Social Security Number.
What to Do If You're A Victim of Fraud
Act quickly! If you find an unauthorized charge on any of your accounts, make sure you contact your creditor's fraud department immediately. You typically have 60 days from when you receive your billing statement with the fraudulent charge to initiate an investigation.
Make sure you also contact one of the three credit reporting agencies noted in the Credit section of the Financial Literacy Web site. You should notify at least one agency of your stolen identity. By law, the contacted agency will then need to notify the other two that your account has been flagged for identity theft. Follow up with the credit reporting agency to ensure no new fraudulent claims are placed on your account.
If you believe someone is using your bank account illegally, contact your bank immediately to close your account. Also, ask them to notify their check verification service; this will prevent retailers form honoring checks written on this account.
Contact the Authorities
Once you have gathered evidence from your claims, you should contact your local law enforcement agency to file a report. You may also want to contact your state’s attorney general’s office for consumer fraud information.