Imagine a person waking up one morning to discover that someone had stolen his or her identity. Overnight, the identity thief could have already opened new charge accounts, ordered checks with a new address, or applied for a job using the stolen Social Security number.

Identity Thieves Get Personal Information by...

  • stealing wallets/purses containing identification, credit & bank cards.
  • stealing mail, including credit card and bank statementA printed or online statement, usually available as a pdf, that provides the depositor with a record of deposits, checks, ATM transactions, and electronic fund transfers made to an account over a certain period of time. s, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards, and tax information.
  • requesting a “change of address” to divert mail to another location.
  • rummaging through trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data.
  • fraudulently obtaining credit reports by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legitimate need for and a legal right to your information.
  • accessing business or personal records at work.
  • finding personal information in homes.
  • using the Internet to obtain personal information, such as Social Security Numbers, credit card data, and passwords, from unsuspecting users. Social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook can be a source of information for identity thieves.
  • buying personal information from “inside” sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information that appears on an application for credit.

Identity Thieves Use Personal Information to...

Ways to Protect Your Identity

If you suspect someone close to you may be using your identity to obtain credit, and accumulate debts in your name, this is considered economic abuse. If and when it is safe, seek help from a counselor, family member, or community leader. A non-profit financial counselor can also help you to identify if this is happening. Practice safe internet use, do not allow cookies and turn off your browsing history.

If your information has been compromised, but not yet misused, the best way to detect identity theft is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month and check your credit report on a regular basis. In addition, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit reports. Also, consider filing a complaint with the FTC.

What to do if you become a victim

If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible and keep a record with the details of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.

  1. Contact the fraud department of one of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) and place a fraud alert on your credit report. The fraud alert means that any company checking your credit knows that your personal information has been stolen.
  2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  3. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission using the online complaint form; or call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
  4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.