How to Prevent It; How to Deal With It

Identity theft is the crime that keeps on taking – often for years. When someone steals your car, you can be pretty much back to normal in a few weeks. But if someone takes your identity, it may take months or even years to correct your credit records. During the frustrating cleanup period, you could be turned down for a significant loan – like a home mortgage – or new credit.

A Growth Industry

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, social security number or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. The growth in ID theft has been dramatic. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 10 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

One reason for its rapid rise is that ID theft is a fairly easy crime to commit. A thief in possession of your name and Social Security number can open a bank account and within a week receive printed checks and a debit card. Or, armed with a credit card solicitation you’ve received, the thief can call the issuer, accept the offer, and have the credit card sent to a “new” address.

People whose identities have been stolen can spend much too much time and money in cleaning up the mess that thieves have made of their good name and credit record.

Taking Precautions

While you cannot safeguard your identity 100 percent, here are some basic steps recommended by the FTC:

  • Protect your Social Security number. With merchants who want your SS number, be prepared to ask tough questions about why they need it. Other advice is not to print your SS number on your checks and not to carry your SS card in your wallet.
  • Keep close track of your credit cards, check your bill and then shred the receipts.
  • Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact and know who you are dealing with.
  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.

In addition, check your credit rating periodically. If your credit report shows a transaction or account you don’t recognize, someone may be using your identity.

Consumers may receive free credit reports from each of the three Nationwide Credit Reporting Bureaus shown below, once each year. By doing a different one each quarter, you will be able to continue reviewing your credit report throughout the year, for no cost.

Steps Victims Should Take

If you think your identity has been stolen, the FTC lists four actions you should take immediately:

  • Place a “Fraud Alert” on our credit reports. Notify one of the three nationwide credit reporting bureaus. Whichever bureau you call will notify the other two, and all of them will place a fraud alert on your files for at least 90 days. The bureaus and their phone numbers for fraud reporting are shown in the box below.
  • Close out any accounts where you suspect fraudulent activity. Also, fill out an ID Theft Affidavit from the FTC, which you can use to dispute unauthorized accounts.
  • File a police report, and get a copy of the report, which can be useful later.
  • File a complaint with the FTC by calling its ID Theft hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT.

For more information on how to deter, detect and avoid identity theft, go to the FTC website at www.ftc.gov.

Nationwide Credit Reporting Bureaus:

Equifax
P.O. Box 105873
Atlanta, GA 30348-5873
800-685-1111
www.equifax.com
Fraud reporting: 800-525-6285

Experian Information Services
P.O. Box 949
Allen, TX 75013-0949
888-397-3742
www.experian.com
Fraud reporting: 888-397-3742

TransUnion
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
800-888-4213
www.tuc.com
Fraud reporting: 800-680-7289