You've probably heard about it in the news.
It may even have happened to someone you know.
The FBI calls identity theft one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and estimates that 500,000 to 700,000 Americans become identity theft victims each year.
Identity theft is a federal crime. It occurs when one person's identification (which can include name, social security number, or any account number) is used or transferred by another person for unlawful activities.
This web page is designed to help you understand what identity theft is, how it happens, how to protect yourself, and what steps to take if your identity is stolen.
The consequences of identity theft can be staggering. Victims spend extensive time closing bad accounts, opening new ones, and fixing credit records. There can be high out-of-pocket expenses related to clearing your name. You could be denied loans and jobs - and, though unlikely, you could even be mistakenly arrested as a result of crimes committed in your name.
Identity thieves frequently open new accounts in your name. They often apply for new credit cards using your information, make charges, and leave the bills unpaid. It is also common for them to set up telephone or utility service in your name and not pay for it. Some victims have found that identity thieves applied for loans, apartments, and mortgages. Thieves have also been known to print counterfeit checks in a victim's name.
Thieves also often access your existing accounts. They may take money from your bank accounts, make charges on your credit cards, and use your checks and credit to make down payments for cars, furniture, and other expensive items. They may even file for government benefits including unemployment insurance and tax refunds.
Unfortunately, thieves often use a stolen identity again and again. It is very common for victims to learn that thieves have opened and accessed numerous accounts, often over a long span of time.
Four out of five victims have no idea how an identity thief obtained their personal information. Among those who think they know what happened, many believe the identity theft occurred when their purse or wallet was stolen or lost. Thieves also steal identities from the trash - this is called "dumpster diving" - and it can occur at home, at work, or at a business. Mail can be stolen from your home mailbox, from a drop-box, at businesses, and even directly from postal workers. Home computers can be infected with viruses that transmit your data to thieves.
Group identity theft has become a major problem for consumers. A thief gains access to a place that keeps records for many people. Targets have included stores, fitness centers, car dealers, schools, hospitals, and even credit bureaus. Thieves may either use the stolen identities themselves or sell them to other criminals.
"Pretexting" is a method of identity theft that is on the rise. The identity thief poses as a legitimate representative of a survey firm, bank, Internet service provider, employer, landlord, or even a government agency. The thief contacts you through the mail, telephone, or e-mail, and attempts to get you to reveal your information, usually by asking you to "verify" some data.
Victims of identity
theft often find that
someone they know has
committed the crime.
Identity theft often goes undectected. Within a month of being committed, half of the crimes still remain unnoticed. One in ten stays hidden for two or more years. Identity thieves may change "your" address on an account so that you won't ever receive the bills with the fraudulent charges on them. They will often pay the minimum balances on accounts they have opened, so as to avoid calling attention to the account and having it cut off. They may even use the identities of children or persons who are deceased, so that the crime is less likely to be noticed.
Four out of five victims have no idea how an
identity thief obtained their information.
Think about taking care of your identity on a regular basis just like you take care of your health. Some activities you do every day, like brushing your teeth and taking vitamins. Other actions should be taken once or twice a year, like getting dental check-ups and an annual physical. On the following pages are some steps to follow to protect your identity.
In the home, keep personal information safe, especially if you have roommates or are having any work done in your home. Don't keep Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) near your checkbook, ATM card, or debit card.
Anything with an
account number on it
can be used in identity
Since many identity thefts are traced to having a purse or wallet stolen, carry as few cards with identification and personal information as possible. Don't take your social security number, and bring as few credit cards as you can. Think about putting different cards in different parts of your purse or knapsack.
You should be wary of any mail, telephone, or Internet request for information - it could be "pretexting." Unless you initiated the contact with a business, don't give out any confidential information - such as your credit card number, social security number, PIN, birth date, or even your mother's maiden name. Also be careful of unexpected e-mails that look as if they are from a legitimate company asking you to enter some information at a linked web site; sometimes phony web sites can look real. Make sure your family members also know not to give out any information to others.
Check your banking and credit statements soon after you receive them and make sure there is no unexplained activity. Keep track of when in the month each of your bills usually arrives. If a bill does not arrive on time, call the company to make sure no changes have been made to your account. Often, identity thieves will change the address of a bill so that it will take you longer to figure out the scam. If you're careful, you may notice the theft earlier.
When you sign a credit card slip, avoid putting your address, telephone number, or driver's license number on it. Also, be sure to take your receipts with you to shred at home because "dumpster diving" is very common at large retail areas, such as malls. This will help to minimize how much personal information about you is floating around out there.
Be particularly wary of
giving out your social
Many people don't realize they are victims of identity theft until long after the initial crime occurred. Identity thieves often try to hide the crimes for as long as possible so that they can access more money. To stop the crimes as soon as possible, make sure you carefully check your credit reports regularly. Your credit reports are important tools for limiting the amount of damage a thief can cause.
Make it harder for
thieves to use your
The newest trend in identity theft is to hit groups of people, and workplaces can be vulnerable. Find out if your company has a policy about protecting its employees from identity theft. Make sure your employer stores your personal information in a safe place. Also, find out which other employees have access to your personal information.
Identity theft can occur through records maintained by your bank, credit card companies, the Department of Motor Vehicles, utilities, insurance companies, and phone companies. Try to have as little information as possible printed on any cards these groups may issue. If you want, ask these companies about their policies with regard to sharing your information. You can stop many components of information sharing.
|When choosing a PIN, use one that is hard to guess. Avoid the last 4 digits of your social security number, your mother's maiden name, birth dates, names of pets, or even the name of your hometown baseball team. Try to mix numbers, letters and symbols.
Make it harder for thieves to use your accounts. Put passwords on credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Get credit cards with your picture on them. Call the companies that issue the accounts and find out what security options they offer.
Don't print your social security number or phone number on your checks. Don't have your checks delivered to your home - go and pick them up yourself at your bank.
Try not to use your social security number for an identifier:
Reduce the circulation of your information through the mail. Stop receiving prescreened credit offers by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688). You can also reduce direct mail marketing and telemarketing by contacting the Direct Marketing Association. Notify each of the three major credit bureaus that you do not want personal information about you shared for promotional purposes. (This will also reduce unsolicited mail.) Consider putting a lock on your mailbox.
Home insurance policies can include "identity theft insurance" as an option. But know that if you are a victim, insured or not, you should be able to get out of paying all fraudulent bills.
There are several steps you can and should take to protect yourself if you are a victim of identity theft. These steps are listed below.
Begin documenting the time and
money you spend on straightening
out identity theft.
Consider using the ID Theft Affidavit to avoid having to complete different forms. This form can assist you in disputing inaccurate information that appears on your credit report as a result of fraud. It's available on www.consumer.gov/idtheft. Keep copies of all affidavits that you send.
After you call the
police, contact the
After you call the police, contact the credit bureaus. Next, contact any credit card companies and banks where your accounts may be at risk.
Contact the fraud departments at each of the three credit bureaus.
(888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
If a thief has gained access to a credit card, contact the security department of that credit card company.
Just because one card has been compromised, you may not want to close all of your credit accounts, and you may want to hold on to some cards. You may want to get counseling about this decision from a victim assistance group. (Some useful nonprofit groups are listed on the back of this booklet.)
Inform your bank if your wallet or purse was stolen or lost. Tell them what bank account information, including account numbers, ATM cards, or checks it contained.
It is also good to contact other authorities that specialize in identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) runs the ID Theft Hotline and the ID Theft Data Clearinghouse.
FTC Identity Theft Hot Line: (877) IDTHEFT (483-4338)
If your social security number has been compromised, report it immediately to the Social Security Administration.
Social Security Fraud Hot Line: (800) 269-0271
If mail service was used in the fraud, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. This agency is helpful if any fraudulent utility bills or apartment leases show up on your credit report.
U.S. Postal Inspectors: (800) 372-8347
If you would like to learn more, there are government and consumer groups that can help you. Below is a list of useful organizations.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
Report Fraud: (800) 525-6285
Order a Credit Report: (800) 685-1111
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013
Report Fraud: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Order a Credit Report: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
Report Fraud: (800) 680-7289
Order a Credit Report: (800) 916-8800
Federal Trade Commission
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Report Fraud: (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338)
Social Security Administration
P.O. Box 17768
Baltimore, MD 21235
Social Security Fraud Hot Line: (800) 269-0271
U.S. Postal Inspection Service
475 L'Enfant Plaza SW
Washington, DC 20260
Social Security Fraud Hot Line: (800) 372-8347
Identity Theft Resource Center
P.O. Box 26833
San Diego, CA 92196
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
3100 - 5th Ave., Suite B
San Diego, CA 92103
Victims Assistance of America, Inc
P.O. Box 33752
Washington, DC 20033
Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Service
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
|For additional free copies of this brochure, contact us at:
|Identity Theft Brochure
Public and Community Affairs Department
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston P. O. Box 2076
Boston, MA 02106-2076
|You can also view this brochure online at the Federal Reserve
Bank of Boston's public web site:
A Video Resource from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston
As part of an ongoing commitment to consumer education, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston released a video in 2001 on identity theft, entitled "Identity Theft: Protect Yourself."
This 13-minute video details how easily personal financial information can get into the wrong hands, allowing criminals to unlawfully obtain credit in your name. Through interviews with victims, law enforcement, and industry representatives, this video aims to provide consumers with ample information on how to protect their vital financial information. The video also outlines what a consumer should do if they suspect that their identity has been stolen.
Identity Theft: Protect Yourself Video Order Form
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston
Public & Community Affairs Department, T-7
Attn: Identity Theft Video
P.O. Box 2076
Boston, MA 02106-2076
Copies of the video are available in VHS format for a charge of $7.50 each. Shipping is included. Payment must accompany order form. Please make checks or money orders payable to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. For more information on the "Identity Theft: Protect Yourself" video, please contact us via telephone at 1-800-409-1333 or e-mail us at [email protected].