Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
How ID theft occurs: Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information. They get information by stealing records from their employer; hacking into the organization’s computers; rummaging through your trash; stealing credit and debit card numbers as your card is processed by using a special information device in a practice known as “skimming;” stealing wallets or bank and credit card statements; or completing a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location.
“Phishing” is a kind of credit and debit card fraud. By pretending to be an e-mail from a bank or similar site, scammers “fish” for account numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers and other personal information. Phishing e-mail schemes change frequently and often have links or attachments with links. Users who click on the links are taken to look-alike sites where they are asked to enter personal data.
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may: go on spending sprees; open new credit card accounts; take out auto loans, establish phone or wireless service in your name; file for bankruptcy under your name, or give your name to the police during an arrest.
If you are a victim of ID theft, or if you suspect that your personal information has been used to commit fraud or theft, take the following four steps immediately:
- Contact the fraud departments of one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax 1-800-525-6285; Experian 1-888-397-3742; or TransUnion 1-800-680-7289) to place a fraud alert on your credit report. The fraud alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts, and all three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge.
- Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
- File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others who may require proof of the crime.
- File your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps the FTC to learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that they can better assist you.