What is Identity Theft? – Identity theft is a serious crime that can disrupt your finances, credit history, and reputation. It will take lots of time, money, and patience to resolve. It happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without permission.
Identity thieves might:
- Go through trash cans and dumpsters, stealing bills and documents that have sensitive information.
- Work for businesses, medical offices, or government agencies, and steal personal information on the job.
- Misuse the name of a legitimate business, and call or send emails that trick you into revealing personal information.
- Pretend to offer a job, a loan, or an apartment, and ask you to send personal information to “qualify.”
- Pretend to be a utility company on the verge of cutting off your service and demanding payment be sent immediately.
- Steal your wallet, purse, backpack, or mail. They remove your credit cards, driver’s license, passport, health insurance card or other items that show personal information.
Red Flags of Identity Theft –
- Mistakes on your bank account, credit card, or other account statement
- Mistakes on the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan
- Your regular bills and account statements don’t arrive on time
- Bills or collection notices for products or services you never received
- Calls from debt collectors about debts that don’t belong to you
- A notice from IRS that someone used your Social Security number
- Mail, email, or calls about accounts or jobs in your minor child’s name
- Unwarranted collection notices on your credit report
- Businesses turn down your checks or credit cards
- You are turned down unexpectedly for a loan or job
How to Protect Your Information –
- Read your credit reports. You have a right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order one every four months by gaining to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
- Read your bank, credit card and account statements, and explanation of medical services from you medical insurance statements. If a statement doesn’t come on time or has errors, call the business.
- Shred all documents that show personal, financial, and medical information before throwing them away. If you don’t have a personal shredder, watch for local credit unions offering shred-athons.
- Don’t respond to email, texts, and phone messages that ask for personal information. Legitimate companies don’t ask for information this way. Report digital messages as spam. Block calls.
- Create online passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Don’t use the same password for more than one account.
- If you shop or bank online, use websites that protect your financial information with encryption. An encrypted site has “https” at the beginning of the web address.
- If you use a public wireless network, don’t send information to any website that isn’t fully encrypted. Don’t give personal information over cell phones. Use landlines.
- Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall on your computer.
- Set your computer’s operating system, web browser, and security system to update automatically.
If Your Identity is Stolen …
- Flag your credit reports – call one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report.. This company must contact the other two so they can put fraud alerts in your files. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days.
Equifax 1-800-525-6285 Experian 1-888-397-3742. TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
- Order your credit reports – each company’s credit report about you is slightly different, so request a report from each company. When you order, you will need to answer some questions to confirm your identity. Read your reports carefully to see if the information is correct. If you see mistakes or signs of fraud, contact the credit reporting company.
- Create an identity theft report – it can help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop a company from collecting debts caused by a thief, and get information about accounts opened in your name. To create an Identity Theft Report:
- File a complaint with the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint or 1-877-438-4338; TTY 1-866-653-4261. Your completed complaint is called an FTC Affidavit.
- Take your FTC Affidavit to your local police, or to the police where the theft occurred, and file a police report. Get a copy of the police report. These two documents comprise an Identity Theft Report.
Billie Nicholson, Editor