Identity (ID) theft is where a thief steals your personal information. Information such as your full name or Social Security number, address, number, birth date, and drivers license to commit fraud. The identity thief can use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, cost you time and money to restore your good name, along with the added stress you have to deal with. You may not know that you are the victim of ID theft until you experience a financial consequence (mystery bills, credit collections, denied loans) down the road from actions that the thief has taken with your stolen identity.
Common types of identity theft includes:
- Child ID theft - Children’s IDs are vulnerable because the theft may go undetected for many years. By the time they are adults, the damage has already been done to their identities.
- Tax ID theft - A thief uses your Social Security number to falsely file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service or state government.
- Medical ID theft - This form of ID theft happens when someone steals your personal information, such as your Medicare ID or health insurance member number to get medical services, or to issue fraudulent billing to your health insurance provider.
- Senior ID theft - ID theft schemes that target seniors. Seniors are vulnerable to ID theft because they are in more frequent contact with medical professionals who get their medical insurance information, or caregivers and staff at long-term care facilities that have access to personal information or financial documents.
- Social ID theft - A thief uses your name, photos, and other personal information to create a phoney account on a social media platform.
How to prevent identity theft:
- You should take steps to prevent this from happening such as securing your Social Security number (SSN). Do not carry this in your wallet as you likely don't need to use it on a daily basis and only give out your SSN when it is necessary.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, Social Security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
- Collect mail promptly. If you are going to be away from your home for several days, place a hold on your mail and activate it when you are back.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact your financial institutions.
- Enable the security features on mobile devices, especially if you have contacts, banking websites and applications saved. Don't give your our password and be caution when you are unlocking your phones.
- Update sharing and firewall settings when you're on a public wi-fi network. Consider using a virtual private network, which can give you the privacy of secured private network.
- Review your credit card and bank account statements. Most people don't even look at their statements and just pay the balance without questioning the transactions. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired credit cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information. Invest in a shredder or bring it to work as companies often have shredders.
- Store personal information in a safe place. Consider getting yourself a safe.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases. Don't use the same password for everything.
- Review your credit report once a year to be certain that it doesn't include accounts that you have not opened. You can order it for free from Annualcreditreport.com.
Now if you have been a victim of identity theft you, how should you report it?
Report identity (ID) theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338.
If you report identity theft online, you will receive an identity theft report and a recovery plan. Create an account on the website in order to update your recovery plan, track your progress, and receive prefilled form letters to send to creditors. If you decide not to create an account, you need to print or save your identity theft report and recovery plan. Without an account, you won't be able to access them on the website in the future. Download the FTC's publication, Taking Charge - What to do if Your Identity is Stolen for detailed tips, checklists, and sample letters.
You can also report identity theft to the FTC by phone at 1-877-438-4338. The FTC will collect the details of your situation, but won't provide you with an ID theft report or recovery plan. You may also choose to report your identity theft to your local police station.
You may also want to report Identity Theft to other organizations in addition to federal government agencies such as:
- Credit Reporting Agencies - Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies to place fraud alerts or freezes on your accounts so that no one can apply for credit with your name or social security number. Get copies of your credit reports, to be sure that no one has already tried to get unauthorized credit accounts with your personal information. Confirm that the credit reporting agency will alert the other two credit reporting agencies.
- National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center - Report cases of identity theft that resulted from a stay in a nursing home or long-term care facility.
- Financial Institutions - Contact the fraud department at your bank, credit card issuers and any other places where you have accounts.
- Retailers and Other Companies - Report the crime to companies where the identity thief opened credit accounts or even applied for jobs.
- State Consumer Protection Offices or Attorney General - Your state may offer resources to help you contact creditors, dispute errors and other helpful resources.
You may need to get new personal records or identification cards if your identity was stolen. Learn how to replace your vital identification documents after identity theft. https://www.usa.gov/replace-vital-documents