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What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, address, Social Security number (SSN), bank or credit card account number, or other identifying information without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft.
How can someone steal my identity?
- Identity thieves may use a variety of low- and high-tech methods to gain access to your personally identifying information. For example:
- They get information from businesses or institutions by:
- stealing records from their employer
- bribing an employee who has access to the records
- conning information out of employees
- hacking into the organizations computers
- They rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or dumps in a practice known as dumpster diving.Ē
- They obtain credit reports by abusing their employerís authorized access to credit reports or by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legitimate need for and a legal right to the information.
- They steal credit and debit card account numbers as your card is processed by using a special information storage device in a practice known as ďskimming.Ē
- They steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
- They steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information.
- They complete a ďchange of address formĒ to divert mail to another location.
- They steal personal information from your home.
- They scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.
How can I tell if Iím a victim of identity theft?
- Monitor the balances of your financial accounts. Look for unexplained charges or withdrawals.
- Other indications of identity theft include:
- Failing to receive bills or other mail, which may signal an address change by the identity thief.
- Receiving credit cards for which you did not apply.
- Being denied credit for no apparent reason.
- Receiving calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you did not buy.
Although any of these indications could be a result of a simple error, you should not assume that thereís been a mistake and do nothing. Always follow up with the business or institution to find out.
How can I prevent identity theft from happening to me?
As with any crime, you cant guarantee that you will never be a victim, but you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information widely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft.
- Donít give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless youíve initiated the contact or are sure you know who youíre dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs) and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, motherís maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization.
- Donít carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.
- Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.
- Guard your mail and trash from theft:
- Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If youíre planning to be away from home and canít pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
- To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that youíre discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
- Carry only the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that youíll actually need. Cancel all unused credit accounts.
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your motherís maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still have a line on their applications for your motherís maiden name. Use a password instead.
- Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctorís offices or other institutions that collect personally identifying information from you. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well.
- Give your S SN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. If your state uses your SSN as your driverís license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your SSN as your account number.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills donít arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- Be wary of promotional scams. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.
- Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work as well as any copies you may keep of administrative forms that contain your sensitive personal information.
- When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, rather than having them sent to your home mailbox.