What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a serious crime. It can disrupt your finances, credit history, and reputation, and take time, money, and patience to resolve. Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission.
Identity thieves might:
How to Protect Your Information
Read your credit reports. You havea right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order all three reports at once, or order one report every four months.
Read your bank, credit card, and account statements, and the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan. If a statement has mistakes or doesn't come on time, contact the business.
Shred all documents that show personal, financial, and medical information before you throw them away.
Don't respond to email, text, and phone messages that ask for personal information. Legitimate companies don't ask for information this way. Delete the messages.
Create 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; "s" is for secure.
If you use a public wireless network, don't send information to any website that isn't fully encrypted.
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.
Red Flags for Identity Theft:
If your Identity is Stolen
First: Flag Your Credit Reports
Call one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you call must contact the other two so they can put fraud alerts on your files. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days.
Second: Order Your Credit Reports
Each company's credit report about you is slightly different, so order a report from each company. When you order, you must answer some questions to prove 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.
Third: Create an Identity Theft Report
An Identity Theft Report can help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop a company from collecting debts caused by identity theft, and get information about accounts a thief opened in your name. To create an Identity Theft Report:
The above information has been adapted from a disseminated bulletin from the Federal Trade Commision (FTC). To see the full bulletin click here. For more information about Identity Theft, What Can be Done to Prevent it and What to Do once you've been victimized, click here for a full report titled "Taking Charge" created by the FTC.