Identity theft is when a person illegally steals personal information about you that can give them access to your money. If a crook can obtain your credit card number, your social security number, your bank account number or other personal financial information, the thief can then use this information to make unauthorized charges or to gain direct access to your money.
What can I do to help prevent identity theft?
When your identity has been stolen, it may take months or even years before you realize that somebody is using your good credit rating. Checking the accuracy of your credit report regularly can detect signs of identity theft early. Since creditors, employers, insurance companies and landlords are making decisions about you based on the information contained in your credit report, it is a good idea to verify the information. After all, your credit report will follow you throughout your life and can help or hinder you financially.
How do I get a copy of my credit report?
The law allows you to receive a free copy of your credit report once a year. To receive a copy of your report, requests should be sent to the three major credit reporting agencies, also known as credit bureaus. You may also get your report online at www.annualcreditreport.com. You will need to supply your complete name, address, social security number, and date of birth with your request. Each credit bureau may have different information. Therefore it is important to obtain your credit report from each of the credit bureaus. Input errors can result in incomplete, misspelled or inaccurate information. Identity theft can also cause incorrect information. Review your report carefully and dispute any errors.
What should I look for on my credit report?
Check your personal information; look for addresses that are unfamiliar, incorrect social security number or date of birth and unknown employers. There is no need to be concerned if previous addresses, employers and any other names you have used in the past appear on your report.
Review any public records such as liens, judgments, collections, child support debts and bankruptcy. Credit reporting agencies must correct or update erroneous or incomplete entries. If the court document itself is inaccurate, however, you might have to get the court to correct it.
Verify your credit history for incorrect information. Look for accounts that are not yours or activity on accounts that you have not used recently. Review your balances, but remember the information may be from a month, maybe two months ago.
Pay particular attention to the inquiries section of your credit report. Unauthorized entries, other than routine inquiries for pre-screened credit offers could be a sign that a thief has requested credit in your name or is impersonating a business that has a legitimate right to obtain your credit report. The information they gain may allow them to access your accounts or your personal information.
What should I do if the information on my credit report is incorrect?
If you believe there is information that is inaccurate, use the dispute form enclosed with your credit report or the dispute section of the website noted on your credit report. The credit reporting agency is required by law to investigate your dispute, make corrections as appropriate and report the results to you.
How can I use my credit report to prevent identity theft?
Monitoring your credit report is a good start; however, there are other steps you can take. You can place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert directs lenders to verify your identity before issuing loans or credit, typically by calling you first. Creditors, however, aren't legally required to abide by, or even check for, a fraud alert.
How can I place a freeze on my credit report?
To place a security freeze on your credit file you must send a request, in writing, to the three major credit reporting agencies by certified mail. If you are a victim of identity theft and have reported the crime to law enforcement, the customary fee for the security freeze will be waived. The credit reporting agency will place the freeze within 5 business days after receiving your request. Within 10 days of the freeze, you will receive a confirmation that your credit report has been blocked and you will be provided with a personal identification number.
How can I remove the freeze?
You can remove or temporarily suspend the freeze by contacting the credit reporting agencies. You will need to supply proper identification including the password that was provided to you by the credit reporting agencies. The freeze will be lifted within 3 business days of receiving your request.
What can I do if I am a victim of Identity Theft?
- Notify the police. Report the crime to the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction in your case. Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, creditors or others need proof of the crime. Even if the thief is not caught, a copy of the police report can assist you when dealing with creditors.
- Complete an Identity Theft Affidavit.You can get an affidavit by contacting the Federal Trade Commission at the address below or at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/affidavit.pdf
- Notify the lender and request the account be closed. Send a copy of the police report and Identity Theft Affidavit. If you believe that an identity thief has tampered with any of your accounts, immediately contact all financial institutions and creditors with whom your name or account was used fraudulently. This can include credit card companies, phone companies, utilities, banks and other lenders. Contact the security or fraud department of each organization and follow up with a letter. The Fair Credit Billing Act stipulates that credit card companies must be notified in writing. Close all accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new personal ID numbers and passwords. Avoid using easily accessed information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security Number, your phone number or a series of consecutive numbers.
- Report the fraud to all credit bureaus. Request that a "fraud alert" and victim's statement be placed in your file asking creditors to call you before opening new accounts or changing existing accounts. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name.
- File a complaint with state or provincial regulators and with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at:
Ask credit bureaus for free copies of your credit reports. Review your reports carefully to make sure no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes have been made to your existing accounts. If fraudulent charges appear on any of your credit card accounts, call the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to clear up any false claims on your credit report.
Ask credit bureaus for the phone numbers of credit agencies with whom a fraudulent account was opened. Request that fraudulent "inquiries" be removed from your report. In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes and that no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Fraud Alerts or Security Freezes call:
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-0949
Fraud Alerts or Security Freezes call:
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
Fraud Alerts or Security Freezes call:
Free Annual Credit Report Online at www.annualcreditreport.com
Federal Trade Commission
Washington DC 20580
Click here for a listing of contact information for your state or provincial securities regulator.