How Does Identity Theft Happen?
Fraud and identity theft are serious crimes and they take place every day. You can’t always prevent it from happening but you can create some obstacles and make it tougher for someone to obtain your personal information. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has outlined some steps you can take to minimize your risk by managing your personal information with caution.
There are many ways that someone can steal your identity, they may obtain your personal information in person on online. Here are a few ways someone’s identity may get stolen:
- Go through your mailbox or garbage to get your account numbers or your social security number
- Obtain your account numbers from a business or medical records
- Trick you into responding to a fraudulent email requesting information
- Steal your wallet or purse to get your personal information
Sometimes you can tell that someone has stolen your identity, other times you may be unaware. Here are some tips that may help you identify if you are a victim:
- Read your bills and statements. Are there charges on there for purchases that you did not make?
- Review your bank account statement. Are all the transactions on the statement what you anticipated, are there debit card or credit card transactions that are not yours?
- Check your mail. Are you receiving all your bills each month or has one stopped coming to your address? Are you receiving a new bill that you did not expect?
- Obtain a copy of your “free” credit report annually. Review the open accounts to make sure you initiated them. Is there open credit you do not recognize?
Answering yes to any of the above questions might indicate that someone has stolen your identity.
The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major reporting companies to provide a free credit report at your request once every twelve months. To obtain your report do the following:
- Visit: www.annualcreditreport.com
- Call toll free 1-877-322-8228
- Complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
- Annual Credit Report Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta GA 30348
- You can print this form from www.ftc.gov/credit
For more information visit the FTC website: www.consumer.gov/scams
If you know your personal information has been lost or stolen, quick action is critical to prevent your identity theft from spreading. Here are some steps you can take to get the process underway:
- File a police report with your local authorities.
- Close accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with. This process can be done by calling or visiting the institution and speaking to someone in their fraud department. You will need to document what you believe has happened to give to the fraud department along with a copy of the police report.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report and monitor them
- Fraud alerts help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name.
- To place the alert call any of the three consumer credit reporting agencies:
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285
- Experian 1-888-EXPERIAN
- Trans Union 1-800-680-7289
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
- FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline 1-877-ID-THEFT
- Enroll yourself in text alerts for your accounts (if possible) to be alerted when any transactions take place.
There are a few things you may be able to do to lower your risk of identity theft.
When you shop online you can:
- Use passwords that people cannot guess
- Shop on secure websites, they have an address that starts with “https”
- Do not put personal information on computers in public spaces or public computers (i.e. your local library)
- Have security software on your computer.
When you shop in a store you can:
- Watch your purse or wallet
- Be careful with your debit or credit cards
- Do not tell anyone your PIN number or write it on your card.
When you are at home you can:
- Keep your financial records in a safe place (social security number)
- Shred papers that have your personal information or medical information
- Take mail out of your mailbox as soon as you can
- Do not give your personal information to anyone who calls you or emails you
- Use passwords that are not easy to guess.