Having your information lost or stolen can be a frightening experience, because you may worry about how the information may be misused if it falls into the wrong hands. You might be in this situation if, for example, you were notified that a company experienced a data breach by a computer hacker and there is a chance that they lost some of your data, your wallet was stolen; or you responded to a phishing email. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to detect misuse that has already occurred and to help prevent potential future misuse.
What are the signs of identity theft?
Stay alert for the signs of identity theft, like:
- accounts you didn't open and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
- fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit reports, including accounts and personal information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers.
- failing to receive bills or other mail. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- receiving credit cards that you didn't apply for.
- being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason.
- getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn't buy.
How do you find out if your identity was stolen?
Unfortunately, many consumers learn they their identity has been stolen after some damage has been done.
- You may find out when bill collection agencies contact you for overdue debts you never incurred.
- You may find out when you apply for a mortgage or car loan and learn that problems with your credit history are holding up the loan.
- You may find out when you get something in the mail about an apartment you never rented, a house you never bought, or a job you never held.
What personal information should I monitor regularly?
Early detection of a potential identity theft can make a big difference. Keep an eye out for any suspicious activity by routinely monitoring:
Your financial statements. Monitor your financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking closely for charges you did not make.
Your credit reports. Credit reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and how you pay your bills. The law requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting agencies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. If an identity thief is opening credit accounts in your name, these accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. To find out, order a copy of your credit reports.
How do I get my free annual credit reports?
An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.
To order your free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll-free 877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print the form from ftc.gov/credit. Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually; they provide free annual credit reports only through www.annualcreditreport.com , 877-322-8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
To buy a copy of your report, contact:
Equifax: 800-685-1111; www.equifax.com
Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742); www.experian.com
TransUnion: 800-916-8800; www.transunion.com
What are the first steps I should take if I think I’m a victim of ID Theft?
If you think, you are a victim of identity theft then call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in victims’ names. As soon as the credit bureau confirms the fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts. Once a fraud alert is placed, victims are entitled to order one free copy of their credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.
- Contact your local police
- Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. When disputing new unauthorized accounts, many banks and creditors will accept the ID Theft Affidavit, which will save victims valuable time in the recovery process.
- File a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form; or call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
- Check your credit report annually.
- Review your bills and statements on a regular basis.
- Guard your mail and trash from theft.
- Use caution when giving out personal information.
- Copy the contents of your wallet or purse.
- Report lost or stolen checks or credit cards immediately.
For additional information and advice, you can call the Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 1-877-IDTHEFT or visit their ID Theft Website at www.consumer.gov/idtheft