Identity theft is the illegal use of someone else’s personal information in order to obtain money or credit. According to the Department of Justice in 2012 around 16.6 million US citizens were victims with a total loss of $24.7 billion. Learn what you can do to protect yourself and the steps to take if you become a victim.
What Do Thieves Do With My Personal Information?
- Charge your credit card
- Get medical treatment on your health insurance
- Open new utility accounts (electric, phone, cable etc.)
- Obtain your tax refund
- Give your name during a police arrest.
How Do I Protect Myself from ID Theft?
- Reduce the amount of mail you receive containing personal information by opening online accounts with your bank and credit cards.
- Close inactive credit card accounts.
- Monitor your credit. Request a free credit report from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion every four months. Each credit reporting agency will send you a free report once a year. Do not contact each agency individually, instead go to www.fdic.gov for instructions on how to order all 3 reports.
- Ask your bank or insurance company if they offer low cost identity protection. For information on insurance and how much it should cost go to www.idtheftinfo.org
How Do I Know I’m an ID Theft Victim? What are the Clues?
- You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
- You get calls from businesses about merchandise that you did not buy.
- You don’t get your bills or other financial statements in the mail.
- You find checks are missing from your checkbook.
- You have a merchants refuse your checks.
- You apply for credit and are turned down or receive less favorable credit terms such as a high interest rate for no reason.
- You receive a credit card (or welcome letter) you never applied for.
- You find suspicious mail about an apartment you never rented, a house you never bought or a job you never held.
- You get a call from a debt collection agency about debts that aren’t yours.
- You see inaccurate information or unfamiliar accounts on your credit report.
- A medical provider bills you for services you didn’t use.
Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
- Your health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
- The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
- You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
I’m an ID Theft Victim, What Are the Steps I Need to Take Right Away?
Step 1 – Call the companies where you know fraud occurred. (Freeze accounts and change passwords.)
Step 2 – Place a fraud alert by calling one of three credit bureaus and get your credit report.
Step 3 – Report identity theft to the FTC. (Complete an online complaint form and print and save the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit)
Step 4 – File a report with your local police department. (Bring a copy of the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit, photo ID, and proof of address such as a utility bill or mortgage statement)
Identitfytheft.gov is an excellent resource from the Federal Trade Commission that will take you through all the steps needed to recover from identify theft. Please use Identitfytheft.gov for additional details and follow up steps.
What Do I Do If My Information is Lost or Exposed?
Go to www.identitytheft.gov/info-lost-or-stolen for detailed information on what to do if the following is lost or exposed:
Social Security number, passwords, credit card number, bank account information, driver’s license or children’s personal information.
It can take years to recover from ID theft and it can lead to emotional pain, anxiety and frustration. Victims often feel angry and helpless. Contact NOVA’s hotline at 1-800-675-6900 if you need additional support.