Frequently Asked Questions - Identity Theft
What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, address, Social Security number (SSN), bank or credit card account number or other identifying information without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. They steal your personal information and use it to open credit cards, take out loans, rent apartments, make long distance calls or even to engage in illegal acts. Identity theft is the fastest growing federal crime in America today, carrying penalties of up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
How can someone steal my identity?
Identity thieves use a variety of low- and high-tech methods to gain access to your personally identifying information. They range from simply helping themselves to your mail or trash to obtaining your information online through a computer. A fellow employee may access information on the job and use it to commit fraud, a dishonest salesclerk might swipe your card twice without your knowledge, your purse or wallet may be stolen, someone may help themselves to your financial information in your home or submit a change of address card to divert your mail to a different location. All of these methods and more are being used by thieves everyday.
How can I prevent identity theft from happening to me?
- Never provide identifying information, especially a Social Security number, over the phone or online unless you have initiated the call.
- Shred all financial and other important documents before they are discarded.
- Be aware of expiration dates on your credit cards and call to report the card lost/stolen if the new card doesn't arrive when expected.
- The same holds true for your monthly bills;, an ID thief may be receiving your mail, along with all of your personal information. Check activity on all statements for unauthorized purchases or withdrawals.
- Don't just cut up unused credit cards, contact the credit grantor and cancel the credit line.
- Enroll in a Credit Monitoring Service.
Should I use a Credit Monitoring Service?
Using a Credit Monitoring Service may be the best way for you to protect yourself against identity theft. Credit Monitoring Services check your credit report on a fixed interval (as often as daily), and can alert you to any discrepancies that may arise.
Reputable Credit Monitoring Services use the latest encryption, consumer screening and data technology security to ensure that your information is protected.
Enrolling in a Credit Monitoring Service will not hurt your credit. You, as a consumer, have the right to look at your credit report without it affecting your credit. More information on Credit Monitoring Services and Credit Reports is available by clicking here.
How would I know it has happened to me?
Unfortunately, most victims are unaware they have become an identity theft victim until they apply for credit and are turned down or receive calls from debt collectors stating they are behind in payments on accounts they never opened. Experts report it could take up to a year for a consumer to even become aware they are a victim. Keeping a close eye on your credit profile, as supplied by the three major credit reporting agencies, is the best way to be pro active against identity theft. Consumers can request one free credit report per year from each credit bureau. To monitor your credit report, consider requesting a requesting a report and review it for incorrect information and any new and unauthorized activity. To request reports, click here.
What are the first steps I should take if I'm a victim of identity theft?
Click here for what steps to take if you feel you are a victim of Identity Theft.