Identity Theft

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. Thieves steal personal information such as your name, credit card number, driver’s license number, or other personal identifying information to commit fraud. The most common identity theft occurs when thieves use your name to:
  • apply for telephone service
  • apply for credit cards or loans
  • buy merchandise
  • lease cars or apartments
  • obtain medical care
  • assume your complete identity and live and work under your name, or
  • commit crimes.

Simple ways to protect yourself:

  • Don’t give out your Social Security or account numbers unless you initiate the call.
  • Review all your monthly financial statements (such as banks, credit cards and loans).
  • Shred trash with sensitive information including convenience checks and credit card offers you get in the mail.
  • Never mail outgoing mail from home. Drop them at the post office or in a U.S. Postal Service box.
  • Carry only the documents and credit cards you need. Wallet and purse theft is also a rich source of information for identity thieves.
  • Use direct deposit to have recurring checks you receive deposited directly to your bank account.
  • Don’t leave printed receipts behind at ATMs or gas pumps.
  • Don’t put credit card or other personal information on a website that isn’t secure.
  • Monitor your credit report thoroughly at least once a year. Obtain a free report at or by calling 877-322-8228. If you spot something suspicious, alert your card company or the creditor immediately. Three credit bureaus participate: Trans Union, Experian and Equifax. The law allows you one free report per year from each company at the above website.

Two Common Internet Identity Theft Scams

Phishing is an email scam that attempts to trick consumers into revealing personal information through fake Web sites or in a reply email. Typically the emails and websites use familiar logos and slick graphics to deceive consumers into thinking the sender or Web site owner is a company they know or a government agency. The FBI calls phishing the hottest and most troubling scam on the Internet.
How does it work?
In the typical phishing scam, you receive an email supposedly from a company or financial institution you may do business with. The email describes a reason you must “verify” or “resubmit” confidential information – such as bank account and credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords and personal identification numbers – using a return email, a form on a linked Web site or a pop-up message with the name and the logo of the company. Perhaps you’re told that your bank account information has then been lost or stolen or that limits may be imposed on your account unless you provide additional details. If you comply, the thieves hiding behind the seemingly legitimate Web site or email can use the information to make unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account, pay for online purchases using your credit card, or even sell your personal information to other thieves.
  • Spyware is a computer software program that gathers information about a computer user, and in most cases, without the user’s knowledge or informed consent. Spyware applications are inadvertently installed when visiting a Web site or clicking a hyperlink.
  • The software can gather and transmit personal information (email addresses, passwords, credit card numbers, PINs) to another organization or person and use it illegally.
  • It can also cause problems with computer resources causing PCs to run slowly or erratically.
How do I protect my PC from Spyware?
  • To prevent the Spyware installation without your consent, remember not to download any freeware onto the computer.
  • You may already be using anti-virus software, but to be effective, the software should be updated regularly with the latest virus definition files.
  • Change your Online Banking password regularly to protect your personal data.
  • Always run anti-virus and anti-Spyware software before you download other programs or open e-mails.
  • If you think that you have installed such software in your PC, you may wish to seek professional IT advice on steps to be taken to uninstall the software from your PC.

What should I do if I think I’m a victim of identity theft?

You may discover you’re a victim when you apply for a loan and your credit check reveals overdue payments on dozens of credit cards in your name that you didn't even know existed. It can take years and thousands of dollars to clear your good name. In the meantime, your credit history can be destroyed; you could be denied for mortgages, other loans, insurance and jobs; and you could lose your retirement savings. 
If you think you’re a victim of identity theft: 
  • Report the identity theft to your bank. 
  • Report the identity theft to each of your credit card companies and cancel all credit cards. Ask for new cards to be issued. 
  • Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient:
    Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
    Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
    TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
  • Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit report. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
  • File a police report. File a report with law enforcement officials to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.

    Report online
    By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
    By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580