Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States – and one that can wreak havoc on your personal and business finances. Identity theft occurs when pieces of your personal information – such as a driver's license, Social Security Number or checking account number – has been stolen and used without your permission.
Once your identity has been compromised, identity thieves are able to drain your bank or brokerage accounts, open new credit cards and bank accounts, and run up bills in your name. In just a short time, your credit history, finances and reputation can be destroyed.
Don’t Be a Victim of Identity Theft
Safeguarding your personal information – online, on paper, and on mobile devices – can help you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. One of the first steps in identity theft prevention is to never give personal information to someone over the phone or via your computer. Identity thieves often pose as banking representatives or other official-sounding individuals and will call or email asking for your checking account or credit card number. Don’t fall for their scam.
When ordering new checks, opt to pick them up at the bank instead of having them mailed to your home. This makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered or cashed by identity thieves.
When discarding credit card offers, banking statements, outdated bills, returned checks and other sensitive information, it’s important to thoroughly shed the items before tossing them in the trash.
Identity thieves commit their crimes by stealing someone's password. Using a random mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and characters makes it harder for identity thieves to discover your password or PIN Number.
Finally, avoid carrying certain sensitive personal information in your purse or wallet. This includes a passport, Social Security numbers and passwords to checking, brokerage or credit card accounts. Separately, keep a list of these account numbers in a safe place in the event that your purse or wallet is stolen.
What to Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen
If you become a victim of identity theft, there are certain steps you need to take to immediately.
Step 1 Ask one of the three credit reporting companies - Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion - to put a fraud alert on your credit report. They must tell the other two companies. An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. The alert lasts 90 days but you can renew it.
Step 2 Once you have placed a fraud alert, you’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. The credit reporting company that you call will explain your rights and how you can get a free copy of your credit report. Order the report and ask the company to show only the last four digits of your Social Security number on your report.
Step 3 Create an Identity Theft Victim's Complaint and Affidavit Report through the Federal Trade Commission. This Identity Theft Affidavit is used to file a police report and document your identity theft. This also helps you deal with credit reporting companies, debt collectors, and businesses that gave the identity thief credit or opened new accounts in your name.