- Identity Theft Prevention

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Identity Theft Prevention

Identity theft affects 15 million Americans a year.  It occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes.  Identity theft can cost you time and money, and can damage your credit and financial reputation.  So we'd like to offer some practical advice.  The Federal Trade Commission recommends that consumers take a three-pronged approach to protecting themselves against identity theft:  deter, detect and defend.

Deter identity theft by safeguarding your information.

  • Be sure to shred financial documents  and paperwork with personal information before you recycle or discard them.
  • Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your number on a check.  Give it out only if absolutely necessary.
  • Don't give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.  Your bank will not ask you for username and passwords, and credit card companies won't ask you for your PIN.  Avoid disclosing personal financial information when using public wireless connections.
  • Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails.  If you haven't opted in to receive a company's messages, then type in a web address you know.  Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more tips.
  • Don't use an obvious password like your birthdate, mother's maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security Number.
  • Keep your personal information in a secure place, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having work done to your house.

Detect suspicious activity by monitoring your accounts and billing statements.

  • Be alert to signs that require immediate attention, such as bills that don't arrive as expected, unexpected credit cards or account statements, denials of credit for no apparent reason, calls or letters about purchases you did not make, or charges on your statements that you don't recognize.
  • Inspect your credit report.  The three major reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) are required to give you a free copy of your credit report every 12 months if you ask for it.  Visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to order your free reports.
  • If you see accounts or addresses on your credit report that you don't recognize, or spot information that is inaccurate, contact the credit reporting company and the information provider.  You can visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft for tips on how to correct errors on your credit report.

Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect it.

  • Place a "fraud alert" on your credit reports 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 credit reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert.  A call to one company covers all three:
    • Experian:  1-888-EXPERIAN
    • TransUnion:  1-800-680-7289
    • Equifax:  1-800-525-6285
  • Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports so you can thoroughly review them for activity you don't recognize.
  • Contact the security or fraud department of each company where an account was opened or charged without your OK.  Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.  Use the ID Theft Affadavit found at www.ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.  Ask for verification that the disputed amount has been dealt with and the fraudulent debts discharged.  Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
  • File a police report.  Filing a report with law enforcement officials will help you correct your credit report and deal with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission to help law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.  You can report three ways:
    • Online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft
    • By phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (TYY:  1-866-653-4261)
    • Or by mail to:
      Identity Theft Clearinghouse
      Federal Trade Commission
      Washington, DC  20580


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