Avoid Being the Victim of Identity Theft

How Identity Theft Happens


Identity thieves physically steal consumer information, including wallets and purses; incoming and outgoing mail, including account statements, pre-approved credit card offers, new checks and applications for credit; tax information; personnel records from employers; and credit card account numbers and expiration dates when payment requires you to temporarily lose sight of your credit card.

Dumpster diving.

Identity thieves look through personal or business trash receptacles for personal information.


Theft of credit card information and numbers during an otherwise legitimate transaction by a dishonest employee of a merchant. Card information is captured using a special “storage” device while processing a payment transaction.


Identity thieves pretend to be a financial institution or business and send spam to your e-mail to get you to reveal your personal information.

Changing your address.

Identity thieves divert billing statements or other mail by completing a change of address form.


Hackers can access your personal information if the computer you use is not secure and/or fails to incorporate proper firewall and virus protection.

How to Prevent Identity Theft

  • Shred all documents that contain personal information before you dispose of them.
  • Protect your Social Security Number (SSN) by leaving your Social Security card at home. Also, don't include your SSN on your checks and only provide your SSN if specifically required. Often you can offer a substitute personal identifier.
  • Do not give personal information over the phone, mail or Internet unless you are positive the source has a legitimate business need for such information. This is especially important if a company contacts you out of the blue.
  • Protect your online activity. This can be accomplished by using firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus programs to protect your computer. These tools must be kept up to date to ensure functionality. Additionally, be sure to log out and close your browser window whenever you use a public Internet terminal. Finally, never click on links in unsolicited e-mails.
  • Never use obvious passwords such as your birthday, mother's maiden name or the last four digits of your SSN.
  • Keep your information in a secure place at home, especially if you live with others or third parties have access to your residence (including maintenance personnel).
  • Carry only the information you require on a daily basis. For example, do not keep store credit cards in your wallet if you do not plan to visit the store.
  • Watch your mail. Secure your mail delivery location or pick up your mail shortly after delivery. Do not let mail pile up when you are out of town.
  • Don't post private information on discussion lists or forums, even if they appear to be private.

Six Ways to Know if You Are an Identity Theft Victim

  1. A scheduled bill has not arrived. Know your payment cycles for utilities and credit cards and watch for the bill. If the bill is late, call and ask why.
  2. Unexpected credit card or account statements arrive in the mail. Verify that you have opened the account if you receive a suspicious statement.
  3. Credit is denied for no known reason. Identity theft can affect your credit score which can result in a denial of credit.
  4. Phone calls and letters arrive regarding an unauthorized purchase. Identity thieves can use your information to fraudulently purchase items on your credit card.
  5. Your consumer report contains debts you never knew you had.
  6. Your financial statements contain charges or changes you did not make.

What To Do If You Think You Are an Identity Theft Victim

Review Consumer Report.

Review your consumer (credit) report from all three of the nationwide consumer reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The law requires such agencies to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it.

Click here to get a free copy of your consumer report, or call (877) 322-8228, or write to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

Place a Fraud Alert.

Place a fraud alert on your consumer report. The alert requires creditors to follow certain procedures prior to opening any new accounts in your name or making changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert. A call to one company is sufficient.

Equifax: (800) 525-6285, equifax.com
Experian: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742), experian.com
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289, transunion.com

Close Accounts and File Reports.

Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established under fraud by contacting the security or fraud departments of each company.

  • Follow up each call in writing and include supporting documents.
  • Use the ID Theft Affidavit available here.
  • Request written verification that the account is closed and fraudulent charges have been discharged.
  • Record and retain any documentation regarding these accounts.
  • File a police report.
  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission by filing a complaint.

Back to Additional Tips for Managing Your Finances

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