Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. It is a serious crime that can wreak your finances, credit history and reputation - and it can take time, money and patience to resolve. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, prepared a guide to help you repair the damage identity theft can cause and reduce the risk of identity theft happening to you.
Protecting your personal identity: 5 useful tips
- Be careful about giving your personal information to a person, agency or company that contacts you (as opposed to one you contact). Never give out your Social Security Number, date of birth, mother's maiden name, credit card number, bank PIN codes or passwords. Ask the person to give you a phone number you can call to verify his/her identity and ask the person to send you any information they would like you to consider in writing.
- Do not give your personal information to anyone, unless you know who you are giving it to and why they need the information.
- Keep your important papers secure, shred documents with sensitive information before you put them in the trash, and limit the personal information you carry with you in your wallet, purse or bag.
- Pick up your mail daily to minimize the risk of it being stolen. Place outgoing mail in a US Postal Service mail receptacle rather than your own mailbox.
- Maintain appropriate security on your computers and other electronic devices. Never give out personal information unless you are using a secure website. You may determine if a website is secure by looking at the beginning of the web address in your browser's address bar. It should read "https://" instead of "http://". You may also look to the bottom right of your screen for a padlock symbol.
How can you tell if someone has stolen your information?
- You see unexplained withdrawals from your bank account.
- You don't get your bills or other mail.
- Merchants refuse your checks.
- Debt collectors call about debts that aren't yours.
- You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
- Medical providers bill you for services you didn't use.
- Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you've reached your benefit limit.
- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don't work for.
- You get notices that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
- You are arrested for a crime someone else allegedly committed in your name.
What should you do if your information is lost or stolen, but your accounts don't show any problems?
If your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial, or account information is lost or stolen contact the credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your credit file. See how to place a fraud alert on page 6 of the FTC guide. Check your bank and other statements for unusual activity. You may want to take additional steps, depending on what information was lost or stolen. For example, you can exercise your legal right to a free copy of your credit report.
If your information is lost in a data breach, the organization that lost your information will notify you and tell you about your rights. Generally, you may choose to place a fraud alert on your credit file, monitor your accounts for unusual activity, and exercise your right to a free copy of your credit report. You may have other rights under state law.