How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? More and more Americans have been.

If it hasn’t happened to you, you may not even be entirely sure what “identity theft” means. We’re not talking about something out of some spy novel. We’re talking about financial fraud: criminals being issued credit cards in other people’s names and then running the cards up past their limits-to the eventual dismay of the people whose identities they assumed. Sometimes purchases are made using checks ordered in someone else’s name. Identity thieves often steal their victims’ names and Social Security numbers off the Internet. They also get such information by swiping bill payments, financial statements, credit cards, and preapproved credit card applications from mailboxes. Sometimes they find it on items that have been discarded.

Free Annual Credit Reports

Due to 2005 legislation in the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act), consumers can now get one free copy of their credit report from each of the major credit bureaus per year. It’s a good idea to check your credit report regularly to spot fraudulent accounts and correct any inaccurate information. To request reports, go to www.annualcreditreport.com, the only authorized source for consumers to access their annual credit report online for free. Or you can call 877-322-8228.

You’ll be able to order all three credit reports at one time, or at different times throughout the year. But, be sure to order from the centralized agency. If you go directly to the credit reporting agencies, you may be charged unless you fit other criteria for a free report (such as being denied credit). The credit reports will be mailed to your home with instructions on how to read them. If you need help, we will be happy to assist you.

Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft

While you can’t completely eliminate the risk of someone fraudulently obtaining and using your personal information, here are some ways to minimize the risk:

  • Don’t put outgoing mail in an unsecured personal mailbox. More and more often, mailboxes are raided and checks duplicated.
  • Don’t give out social security numbers or account information over the phone or by Internet or mail unless you know who’s requesting it — if you didn’t initiate the call, it could very well be a phishing scam.
  • Keep items with personal information on them in a safe place. Tear up credit card, check card and ATM receipts, old account statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them out.
  • Get your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus at least once a year and make sure all entries actually belong to you.
  • Don’t store personal or financial information on a laptop computer unless absolutely necessary.
  • Delete personal information before disposing of any computer.
  • Protect your personal identification numbers and other passwords. Don’t use passwords that are easy to figure out such as your date of birth or the last four digits of your social security number.
  • Don’t carry around your social security card.
  • Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.
  • Pay attention to your accounts’ billing cycles. If your bills don’t arrive on time, it could mean that someone changed the billing address.

If you think your personal information has been stolen:

  • Notify the major credit bureaus — by putting a fraud alert on your account, you can ensure that no one can get credit in your name without the merchant contacting you personally. Order your credit report to see if any fraudulent accounts have been opened. If you haven’t gotten your free report for the year, see how to do that above.
  • Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently and stop payment on any stolen checks.
  • File a report with the local police or in the community where the theft occurred. Keep a copy of the police report – you’ll need it later.
  • Call the FTC at 877-438-4338.
  • If it appears that someone is using your social security number, contact the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of your reported earnings.

Credit Bureaus

Equifax

www.equifax.com

To order your report, call 800-685-1111. To report fraud, call 800-525-6285.

Experian

www.experian.com

To order your report, call 888-397-3742. To report fraud, call 888-397-3742.

TransUnion

www.transunion.com

To order your report, call 800-888-4213. To report fraud, call 800-680-7289.