identity theft

Posted : February 22, 2018
Last Updated : February 22, 2018

identity theft

Identity theft occurs when thieves steal your personal information (e.g., your Social Security number [SSN], birth date, or credit card numbers). With sufficient information, another person can use your identity to commit fraud or other crimes.

How to Avoid Identity Theft

Protect your SSN, credit card and debit card numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords, and other personal information.
Never provide this information in response to an unwanted phone call, email, text or letter, no matter how friendly or official the circumstances may appear. Be mindful of those who may be shoulder surfing (or trying to look over your shoulder) while you use the ATM, and seeking to steal your PIN.

In case your wallet is lost or stolen, carry only the identification you really need: checks, credit cards, or debit cards. Keep the rest, including your Social Security card, in a safe place. Don’t preprint your SSN, phone number, or driver’s license number on your checks. You have the right to refuse requests for your SSN from merchants. Ask the merchant to use another form of identification that does not include your SSN (e.g., a passport) and have your driver’s license number changed.

Sign up for direct deposit.
Sign up for direct deposit of your paycheck or state or federal benefits, (e.g., Social Security). Direct deposit prevents someone from stealing a check out of your mailbox and forging your signature to access your money. It’s also beneficial in the event of a natural disaster.

Keep your financial trash “clean.”
Thieves known as dumpster divers pick through garbage looking for pieces of paper containing SSNs, bank account information, and other details they can use to commit fraud. What’s your best protection against dumpster divers? Before tossing out these items, destroy them, preferably using a crosscut shredder that turns paper into confetti that can’t be easily reconstructed.

Keep a close watch on your bank account statements and credit card bills.
Monitor your account activity and contact your financial institution immediately if there is a discrepancy in your records or if you notice something suspicious (e.g., a missing payment or an unauthorized withdrawal).

Protect your incoming and outgoing mail.
For incoming mail: Try to use a locked mailbox or other secure location (e.g., a post office box). If your mailbox isn’t locked or in a secure location, try to promptly remove mail that’s been delivered or move the mailbox to a safer place. When ordering new checks, ask about having the checks delivered to your bank branch instead of having them mailed to your home where you run the risk of a thief finding them outside your front door.

For outgoing mail containing a check or personal information: Try to deposit it in a United States (U.S.) Postal Service blue collection box, hand it to a mail carrier, or take it to the post office instead of leaving it in your doorway or home mailbox. A mailbox that holds your outgoing bill payments is a prime target for thieves who cruise neighborhoods looking for account information. Avoid putting up the flag on a mailbox to indicate that outgoing mail is waiting.

What to Do if You Suspect You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

If you believe you’re a victim of identity theft, the FTC recommends that you immediately take the following actions:
  • File a report with your local police. Get a copy of the police report, so you have proof of the crime.
  • Contact your creditors about any accounts that have been changed or opened fraudulently. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department.
  • Follow up in writing, and include copies of supporting documents.
  • Keep records of your conversations and all correspondence.
  • Use the Identity Theft Affidavit at to support your written statement.
  • File a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form ( or call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline.
  • Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
  • Call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) or visit

Fraud Alerts
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, or think you’re about to be, (e.g., if your wallet is stolen):
  • Contact the fraud department of any of the three major credit reporting agencies. The agency you call is required to notify the other two credit agencies. Tell them you’re an identity theft victim (or potential victim).
  • You have the right to place an initial fraud alert in your credit file. You can do this by calling, writing, or visiting any of the three credit agencies online. This initial fraud alert will last for 90 days.

If you know you’re a victim of identity theft, you may have an extended fraud alert placed in your credit file.
  • The extended fraud alert requires a lender to contact you and get your approval before authorizing any new account in your name.
  • The alert is effective for seven years.
  • To place an extended alert in your credit file, submit your request in writing and include a copy of an identity theft report filed with a law enforcement agency (i.e., the police) or with the U.S. Postal Inspector.

You can get a free copy of your credit report if you ask when you place a fraud alert on your file. Active-duty military personnel have the right to place an alert in their credit files so that lenders acting on loan applications can guard against possible identity theft.

Security Freeze
  • Many states have laws that allow you to place a security freeze on your credit file. A security freeze restricts potential creditors and third parties from accessing your credit report unless you authorize the release of the security freeze.
  • Be aware that using a security freeze to restrict access to your credit report may delay, interfere with, or prohibit the timely approval of any subsequent request or application for credit.
  • State laws vary, and there may be a charge to freeze and unfreeze a credit file. The cost of placing, temporarily lifting, and removing a credit freeze also varies. Many states make credit freezes free for identity theft victims; while in other states consumers pay a fee. For more information please visit:

What to Do if Your Wallet or Purse Is Lost or Stolen

If your wallet or purse is lost or stolen, the FTC suggests you:

File a report with the police as soon as possible. Keep a copy of the report in case your bank or insurance company needs proof of the crime.

Cancel your credit cards immediately. Get new cards with different numbers.

Place a fraud alert on your credit report by calling any of the major credit reporting agencies:
  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742

Report the loss to your bank. You might want to open new checking and savings accounts and stop payment on any lost checks.

Contact the major check verification companies to request that they notify the stores that use their databases to not accept your lost checks. You can also ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business. Two of the check verification companies that accept reports of check fraud directly from consumers are:
  • TeleCheck: 1-800-366-2425
  • Certegy: 1-800-437-5120

Request a new ATM card with a new number and PIN.


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