Identity Theft

What you should know about identity theft

Identity theft is the fastest growing white-collar crime in the U.S. Beware. Identity thieves need only get your name, address, and bank or credit account numbers, or your social security number, etc., to take over your identity. And they can get it through different means, including taking it out of your mailbox.

These crooks can then change your address, open new accounts at banks and credit card companies in your name, deplete your funds and run up credit card balances. Obviously this can ruin your credit and your good name.

There are ways to protect yourself. Banks and law enforcement will do what they can, but identify theft is often hard to detect. It's mainly your responsibility.

Protect Yourself

  • Make your passwords difficult to guess. Don't use passwords relating to family names, birthdates, social security numbers, addresses or your job
  • Don't keep your passwords on you
  • Be careful what you throw in the trash, such as bills, cancelled checks, account statements, marketing materials and similar documents
  • Shred or tear up your charge receipts, credit card offers, expired cards, statements, checks and other sensitive information
  • Carry only the identification and bank/credit cards you actually need
  • Review monthly statements immediately and report anything that you question or if the bill or statement doesn't arrive
  • Call your credit card company immediately if your new card hasn't arrived
  • Destroy and cancel old, unwanted or unused credit cards. Cutting them up is not enough
  • Don't give personal information to anyone unless you are positive who the person is and that there is a legitimate need for the information
  • Never lend any of your passwords to anyone
  • Be careful with you mail. Deposit outgoing mail at the post office rather than your mailbox, and remove mail from your box immediately.
  • Be positive of the identity of anyone telephoning you to request information. Be especially cautious of anyone claiming to be a law enforcement official. Offer to call the person back, and ask for a number you can verify in the phone book. Otherwise, don't call back.
  • Do not give out personal data over the phone, through the mail, or online unless you initiate the contact.
  • Periodically check your credit report to see if there are loans or credit cards outstanding that you don't know about.
  • Never write down you PINs — memorize them. Don't use any part of your social security number, mother's maiden name, birth date or address.
  • Never carry your social security number in your wallet or write it on checks.
  • Give your social security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other identifiers.
  • Be mindful of who is around you at ATMs and when using phone cards. "Shoulder surfers" can get you PIN and gain access to your account.

If You Become a Victim

  • First, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus.
  • Second, contact the creditors or bank for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • Third, file a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identify theft took place.

The telephone numbers of the three major credit reporting agencies are:

Equifax — To order your report, call 800.685.1111. To report fraud call 800.525.6285/ TDD 800.255.0056

Experian — To order your report or to report fraud call 888.397.3742.

TransUnion — To order your report, call 800.916.8800. To report fraud call 800.680.7289.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the Federal Government's primary agency for dealing with identity theft. They have a toll-free hotline devoted to identity theft — 1-877-438-4338.