What is Identity Theft?
Typically identity theft involves a thief stealing your personal information to pose as you in some way. One of the fastest growing crimes in America, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that identity theft victimized close to 17 million people in 2012 alone. Prime targets include children, college students, military members, veterans and seniors but it can happen to anyone.
How to Protect Yourself
-Put outgoing mail in postal mailbox.
-Shred unwanted documents containing personal information, all unsolicited credit card and loan offers.
-Shield keypads before entering PINs, passwords or card information and avoid sharing personal information in public settings.
-Never carry your Social Security card, PIN's or account passwords with you. Memorize them and keep them safely locked up at home.
-Stay aware of current scams. Watch or read the news. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers information and tips on current scams. Go to http://www.consumer.ftc.gov and click "Scam Alerts."
-Never reply to messages asking for personal information, whether the message was sent over the phone or by email, text or social media sites. Do not call phone numbers or clink on links contained in these messages.
-Never send money or account information in reply to notices that you won a prize or lottery.
-Don't fall for pressure tactics. Never react quickly or impulsively to offers or requests.
-Be wary of "imposter" scams in which a scammer pretends to be someone close to you or an entity you're unlikely to question. Fraudsters pretend to be family members, friends, love interest, government agencies or companies often trying to get personal information.
-Check your card activity and bank accounts regularly. Look for unfamiliar charges. Keep a close eye out for charges of less than a dollar or two. A thief may first charge a small amount to "test out" using your card. Unwary consumers often do not notice or care about small amounts, making them prime targets for identity theft and fraud.
Victims of Identity Theft
If you've become a victim of identity theft, act quickly. This can help limit damage.
-Call any business where you know fraud took place. Ask to speak with the fraud department. Say your identity was stolen. Ask for your accounts to be closed or frozen so new charges can not be incurred.
-Place an initial fraud alert on your files. Contact one of the three major US credit reporting companies to report yourself as a victim. That one must tell the other two. The fraud alert lets lenders and creditors know that they should take steps to verify your identity before they issue you credit. This should help prevent thieves from opening new accounts in your name. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days and may be renewed. You might also choose at this time to place a credit freeze.
-File a complaint with the FTC. This can be done online at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1 or over the phone at 877-438-4338. Include as much information as possible and follow instructions carefully. Make sure to save and print out your completed complaint. Once it's printed, it becomes an Identity Theft Affidavit. Keep a record of the day you filed the complaint, your complaint reference number and copies of the affidavit. If you need to update your complaint, call the number and have your complaint reference number ready.
-Call the police department to file a report.
The Better Business Bureau
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force
Internal Revenue Service
The Internet Crime Complaint Center
National Cyber Security Alliance