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 at the post office.
- "Old-Fashioned" Stealing- They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records from their employers, or bribe employees who have access.
Deter Identity Thieves
- Shred or burn financial documents and paper with personal information.
- Protect your social security number (SSN). Don't carry your social security card in your wallet or write your SSN on a check. Give it out only when absolutely necessary or when required.
- Don't give out personnel information on the telephone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you absolutely know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links in unsolicited or untrusted 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. Visit http://www.onguardonline.gov/ for more information.
- Don't use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your SSN.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place.
Detect Suspicious Activity
- 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 made.
- Your credit report. The law requires that major, nationwide consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it. Visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com/ or call 1-877-322-8228 to order your free report. You can also write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
- Your financial statements. Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make.
Defend Against ID Theft
- Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports if you are a victim of ID theft and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your account you can't explain.
2. Close accounts. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
3. File a police report.
4. Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission: online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft; by telephone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); or by mail at Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580