Overview of identity theft
Identity theft is when a person pretends to be someone else to do things like open bank accounts or buy things using someone else’s name. This often happens when someone’s wallet that includes a driver’s license, credit card, or insurance information is lost or stolen. Identity theft is a crime with severe consequences. Victims (and potential victims) of identity theft can take steps to protect their names, reputation, and credit. Once you determine you are a victim of identity theft, report it at IdentityTheft.gov and get a free personal recovery plan.
Some red flags to watch for if you think you've been a victim of identity theft:
- Unknown charges on a bank statement
- Criminal charges on a record
- Bills from a hospital or a doctor you've never seen
- New bank or credit card accounts opened in your name
- A tax return is filed in your name
How to avoid identity theft
There are many ways that thieves can get your identity:
- Your wallet
- Your online accounts
- Your mailbox
- Your garbage
Thieves can steal your identity by taking your wallet and using the cards and IDs inside it. To protect yourself you should avoid doing certain things:
- Never carry your social security card with you;
- Don't write your PINs down; and
- If your wallet or purse is stolen, report it immediately.
If you report the card or checks stolen before any charges are made, you won't be responsible for those charges. The longer you wait to report, the more money you might be responsible for paying back. So report the card as soon as you know it's been stolen.
Thieves can steal your identity by hacking into your online accounts if they have your passwords. To protect yourself, you should always use strong passwords:
- Use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols;
- Don't use personal information like your birthday or your pet's name;
- Don't save your passwords on computers that aren't your own;
- There are mobile apps you can use to safely store all your passwords in one place; and
- Don't send someone a password by email or text message.
Thieves can steal your identity by taking documents from your garbage or mail:
- Don't let your mail sit in your mailbox;
- Rip up or shred any documents with your personal information; and
- Opt out of new credit cards so that companies won't send you offers in the mail.
Thieves will sometimes try to scam personal information out of you on the phone, mail, or in person. To protect yourself make sure you trust the company.
To keep tabs on any suspicious behavior, you can review your credit report. Remember, you get one free credit report a year. Do not pay for it. You can obtain a credit report through Annual Credit Report. You can also place a fraud alert on your credit report if you aren't opening any new credit cards. This means that if someone tries to apply for a new credit card in your name, you will be told and you can close the account. You can place a fraud alert by calling one of these three reporting agencies:
- Experian at (888) 397-3742
- TransUnion at (800) 680-7289
- Equifax at (800) 525-6285
The fraud alert will stay on your file for 90 days, but you can renew it if you need to. If you are a victim of identity theft, you can ask for an extended fraud alert. The extended fraud alert can last for 7 years, and you will have to provide a copy of the identity theft report.
Additionally, you can sign up for a third party credit monitoring service. These are often free or may be included in your bank. Credit monitoring services will send you monthly reports on your credit, including email alerts of fraudulent activity to your credit.
Learn more about How to recognize identity theft scams
The official federal government Identity Theft website will walk you through step by step to fix your credit report and bills. You:
- Answer questions about what happened to you
- Put in your name, address, and other information
- Get your Identity Theft Report
- Get a recovery plan created just for you
Updated: August 2017