If you have lost personal information or identification, or if it has been stolen from you, taking the following steps quickly can lower the chances of identity theft.
Once you have taken these steps, watch for signs that your information has been stolen. If your information has been stolen, file a theft report with the police, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. If another crime was committed—for example, if your purse or wallet was stolen or your house or car was broken into—report it to the police immediately.
If you do become a victim of identity theft, take these five steps immediately.
P.O. Box 160
Woodlyn, PA 19094
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348-5788
Fraud Division: 1-800-525-6285
Fraud flags are useful tools to stop further theft. If you think your identity has been stolen, you may have a 90-day fraud alert placed on your credit file. Call any one of the three reporting agencies listen above to do this. If you cannot solve the problem in 90 days, you can ask for a longer alert placed on your file—for up to seven years. Remember though—a thief may keep your information for longer than that and try to use it after the time limit is up.
For more information, visit identitytheft.gov and click “get started” to create a personal recovery plan and start the identity theft affidavit. You can also learn more at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse at privacyrights.org, 1-619-298-3396, or the Identity Theft Resource Center at idtheftcenter.org, 1-858-693-7935.
When it comes to identity theft, you cannot control whether you will become a victim. But there are certain steps you can take to lower your risk.
Put passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Do not pick easy passwords like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still have a line on their applications for your mother's maiden name. Ask if you can use a password instead.
Keep personal information in your home safe, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.
Ask about information security in your workplace or at businesses, doctor's offices, or other places that collect your personally identifying information. Find out who has access to your personal information and make sure that it is handled safely. Ask about how those records are destroyed as well. Find out if your information will be shared with anyone else. If so, ask how your information can be kept secret.
Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you started the contact or are sure you know who you are dealing with. Identity thieves are clever. They have posed as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people to give them their Social Security number, mother's maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Check an organization's website by typing its URL in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting it.
Many companies post scam alerts when their name is used falsely, so you may find an alert online, or call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book.
Put mail you are sending in corner mail boxes or at your local post office. Do not put mail you are sending in your mailbox. Pick up mail from your mail box as soon as you can. If you are planning to be away from home and cannot pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
Take steps to stop an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to steal your personal information. You should tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you are discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. To stop getting offers of credit in the mail, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688).