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The Facts on Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your bank account number, Social Security number, credit card, or other personal information for his or her own purposes like opening an account, making purchases, applying for a loan, or getting a tax refund.  It can be months before the theft has been discovered.

How does it happens?

  • They steal your wallet and purse containing your identification and credit and bank cards.
  • They steal your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards, and tax information.
  • They complete a “change of address” form to divert your mail to another location.
  • They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data in a practice known as “dumpster diving.”
  • They get your business or personnel records at work.
  • They find personal information in your home.
  • They use personal information you share on the Internet.
  • They skim your information by using a special device that captures your account information when you swipe your card at an ATM or other payment machine. 
  • They buy your personal information from “inside” sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information about you that appears on an application for goods, services, or credit.
  • They fraudulently obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legitimate need for the information.

How Is Your Stolen Identity Used?

Once crooks have obtained your personal information, there are several things they can do:

  • Get credit cards or loans in your name
  • Open a phone or wireless service
  • Order counterfeit checks
  • Get medical care
  • File a false tax return and get a refund
  • Commit other crimes
  • File for unemployment or Social Security benefits

Thieves may change your mailing address so that bills are sent to a different address, which means it may take some time before you realize that there is a problem.  

How Can You Minimize the Risk?

  • Sign your credit cards upon receipt.
  • Only carry cards that you need.
  • Do not carry your Social Security card.
  • Never write your PIN or Social Security number on anything you are going to throw away. Shred documents containing your Social Security number.
  • Do not release personal information such as your Social Security or bank account number over the phone unless you made the phone call and understand why the information is necessary.
  • Detect unauthorized activity by reviewing bank account and credit card statements and using online account access.
  • Use e-mail-based account "alerts" to monitor transfers, payments, low balances and withdrawals.
  • Obtain and review your credit report at least annually to ensure the material is correct.
  • Sign up to receive electronic bills and statements and, whenever possible select the option to turn off the paper copy of these sensitive documents.
  • Be aware of credit card billing cycles. If you do not receive a bill on time, contact the company. 

What If You are Victimized?

  • If a credit card is stolen, close the account immediately.
  • Notify the three main credit bureaus.
  • Put passwords (not your mother's maiden name) on any new accounts.
  • File a report with the police in the community where the theft occurred.
  • Keep a copy of the report in case it is needed later.
  • If your Social Security number is being used fraudulently, notify the Social Security Administration.

Federal Trade Commission:

  • FTC web site
    Identity Theft Clearinghouse
    1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338)
    600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
    Washington, DC 20580

  • To report identity theft online: See the FTC identity theft online complaint form

Main Credit Reporting Bureaus:

  • Equifax fraud division
    P.O. Box 740250
    Atlanta, GA 30374

  • Experian fraud division
    P.O. Box 1017
    Allen, TX 75013

  • Trans Union fraud division
    P.O. Box 6790
    Fullerton, CA 92634

Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General: