What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information (e.g., name, Social Security number, or credit card number) without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.
The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn't make-or until you're contacted by a debt collector.
Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend thousands of dollars and many months repairing damage to their good name and credit record. Some consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. In rare cases, they may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
- Do not give out personal information such as checking account and credit numbers, especially your Social Security Number (SSN) or bank account numbers, on the phone unless you initiate the call and know the person or organization you're dealing with.
- Do not pre-print your driver's license, telephone, or SSN on your checks. Protect your Social Security Number as you would your PIN number! You would never print your PIN number on your check, would you?
- Do not ever use your debit card for Internet purchases! Consider having an "Internet only" credit card for this purpose.
- Once per year, order a free credit report from the credit reporting agencies to review your file and make certain the information is correct.
- Do not use your SSN on your driver's license. Do not carry your Social Security card.
- Store your new and cancelled checks in a safe place. Report lost or stolen checks immediately. Review new check orders carefully.
- Guard your personal identification numbers (PINs) for your ATM and credit cards, and do not write on or keep your PINs with your cards. Guard or shred your ATM and credit card receipts.
- Copy all card information from your wallet, front and back, so you have a record of what you are carrying. Include your cards' toll-free contact phone numbers and store in a safe place.
- If you receive financial solicitations that you are not interested in, shred before throwing them away. Shred or make any other financial documents, such as bank statements or invoices, unreadable before disposing of them.
- Keep an eye out for missing mail. Fraudsters look for monthly bank or credit card statements or other maile containing financial information. Consider enrolling in online banking with online statements to reduce the likelihood of paper statements being stolen.
- Do not put outgoing mail in or on your mailbox. Drop it into a secure and official Postal Service collection box.
- If regular bills fail to reach you, call the company and find out why. Someone may have filed a false change-of-address notice to divert your statement to his/her address.
- If your bills include suspicious items, do not ignore them. Instead, investigate immediately to head off any possible fraud.
- Use caution when using a debit or credit card at a restaurant or any place your card is processed out of sight.
- Sensitive data can become vulnerable when accessed through public computers. Only use your own computer when you need to access sensitive information.
- Never let a stranger use your computer. They may attempt to access confidential files.
- If your credit card is rejected, it may be a sign of identity theft. Take action immediately.
- Don't accept friend or connection requests from individuals you don't know. Scammers target individuals through social media by befriending and gathering enough information to steal your identity.
- Don't talk about sensitive information when in public. People around you are listening.
- Identity thieves often use Phishing techniques so protect yourself by keeping personal information to yourself.
- Pay with cash when you are suspicious. Trust your instincts if you feel wary about using your debit or credit card.
- Protect your computer. Keep virus/antimalware software active and current. Make sure you are utlizing secure websites when conducting business online.
- Free credit report from all three credit bureaus: Call 877-FACT-ACT (877-322-822) or online at www.annualcreditreport.com
- Equifax (www.equifax.com) - To report fraud call 1-800-525-6285
- Experian (www.experian.com) - To report fraud call 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742)
- Trans Union (www.tuc.com) - To report fraud call 1-800-680-7289
- Opt-Out of pre-screened credit card offers: Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688)
- Put an alert on your Social Security Number: Call 1-800-269-0271
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ID Theft
Hot Line: Call 1-877-438-4338
- Opt-Out of marketing lists (coupon books, catalogs, etc.): Call 1-800-407-1088
- Remove your name from many national direct mail lists: Visit www.the-dma.org or write to:
Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Service
P.O. Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
- Register for Missouri's No Call List: Call 1-866-662-2551 or visit www.ago.mo.gov/nocalllaw
- Register for the National No Call List: Call 1-888-382-1222 or visit www.donotcall.gov (be sure to add your cell phone number)