Prevent identity theft

Identity theft is the most frequent complaint at the Federal Trade Commission for the last 15 years.  It costs victims thousands of dollars to repair their credit on top of the financial loss from the theft.  Identity theft has become so common that we all need to understand it and take action to keep safe.

Criminals try to get your personal identifying information by:

  • Looking through your trash and stealing your mail.
  • Copying or “skimming” your credit card numbers.
  • Hacking into the financial records of a business or bank or credit card company.
  • Stealing your wallet, purse, or laptop, or breaking into your home or your car.
  • Tricking you into giving the information to them.
  • Buying the information from other criminals, or from someone at your workplace.
  • Through “data breaches” at a business.
  • Sometimes family members or people you trust will abuse that trust to get it.

What the criminals do with your information:

  • Obtain fake identification in your name with their picture.
  • Open new credit accounts in your name, and/or use your existing credit accounts.
  • They may do any, or all of the following:
    • Buy large denomination pre-paid cards for future purchases.
    • Drain you bank accounts if they can.
    • Open bank accounts and credit accounts in your name with businesses.
    • Establish wireless service in you name.
    • File tax returns and claim your refund.
    • Get traffic tickets and not go to court so an arrest warrant is issued for you.
    • Change your address on credit accounts you don’t see the bill statements.
    • Buy very expensive items – even cars and homes. 

Minimize your chances of becoming a victim:

  • Deny access to your private information as much as possible by keeping it secured at home, on your computer, at work and everywhere.
  • Shred all documents with personal info on them before disposing of them.
  • Never give private information by phone or computer.
  • Always check bills, statements and credit reports.
    • Look for items you didn’t buy and for businesses who look at your credit.
      • Ask yourself if you have a business relationship with them – why would they look at your credit if “you” weren’t working with them.
    • Close unused accounts and shred the paperwork.
    • Use paperless bills and statements whenever possible.
    • Consider using an identity theft protections service.
    • Update anti-virus/anti-spyware regularly and using firewall protection.

What should you do if your ID has been stolen:

  • Limit the impact: Notify banks, businesses and credit bureaus of the theft.
  • Change passwords, PINs and secret questions and “flag” your account at the credit bureaus – report the theft to law enforcement and the FTC.