Identity theft (or identity fraud) is the taking of another individual’s identity to obtain credit in some form. Thousand of dollars can be stolen without the victim knowing about it for months or even years.
With a few key pieces of information (such as your social security number, your birth date, your address and phone number and a fake driver's license) a thief can apply in person or through the mail for instant credit posing as you. They often claim to have recently moved and provide their own address so communication about the new account goes to them instead of you. Once the first account is opened, they can continue to add to their credibility.
Careful with the Mail
- Deposit mail in U.S. Postal Service collection boxes.
- Make sure you receive your mail in a secure locked box.
- Don’t leave mail in your mailbox overnight or on weekends.
- Shred unwanted mail and documents that contain personal information. This includes unsolicited pre-approved credit applications received in your name, insurance forms, bank checks and statements you are discarding, and other financial information you no longer need.
Protect Your Personal Information
- Never give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact. Identity thieves pose as bank representatives, Internet service providers, government officials, police officers and others to get you to reveal identifying information they need such as Social Security Numbers or pin numbers.
- Be smart about your passwords and codes. Never use your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your social security number, your children or your pet’s name. Whenever possible use a combination of letters and numbers that only you would know.
- Minimize the identification information you carry, and take only the number of credit cards that you really need. Don't carry your social security card, birth certificate, or passport, unless it is necessary.
- Do not put your telephone number or driver’s license number on your pre-printed checks.
Watch Your Money
- Be alert when using ATMs and phone cards. Someone may look over your shoulder and get your PIN numbers gaining access to your accounts.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles and follow up with creditors if bills don't arrive on time.
- Match your credit card receipts against your monthly bills and check your monthly financial statements for accuracy.
- Never leave transaction receipts at ATM machines, on counters at financial institutions, or at gasoline pumps.
- If you order new credit cards or your previous ones have expired, watch the calendar to make sure you get the new card within the appropriate time. If you don’t, call the credit card issuer.
- Do not put your credit card number on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secured site.
- Cancel all credit cards that you no longer use. Open credit is a prime target for ID thieves.
- Monitor your monthly bank statements for unauthorized charges
Check Your Credit Report
- Order a copy of your credit report at least twice a year and review it thoroughly.
- Correct any mistakes on your credit report in writing. Send the letters return receipt requested. Identify the problems item by item and send with a copy of the credit report back to the credit reporting agency. You should hear from the agency within 30 days.
- Make a list of all your credit card account numbers and bank account numbers with customer service phone numbers and keep it in a safe place at home. Insert an extra string of 3 or 4 digits into each line so that if a thief finds the sheet it will be useless to them.