Preventing Identity Theft and Steps to Take If You Become a Victim

Identity theft is a common crime, but you can protect yourself with some common sense steps

Preventing Identity Theft and Steps to Take If You Become a Victim
Image: Pixabay
April 3, 2018

Identity theft is a serious crime. Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

how identity thieves get your info

  • Identity thieves might go through trash cans and dumpsters, stealing bills and documents that have sensitive information.
  • They can work for businesses, medical offices, or government agencies, and steal personal information on the job.
  • Sometimes thieves misuse the name of a legitimate business, calling or sending emails that trick you into revealing personal information.
  • Scammers will pretend to offer a job, a loan, or an apartment, and ask you to send personal information in order to "qualify."
  • They steal your wallet, purse, backpack, or mail, and remove your credit cards, driver's license, passport, health insurance card, and other items that show personal information.

Protect Your Information

  • Read your credit reports. You have a right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies.
  • Read your bank, credit card, and account statements, and the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan. If a statement has mistakes or doesn't come on time, contact the business.
  • Shred all documents that show personal, financial, and medical information before you throw them away.
  • Don't respond to email, text, and phone messages that ask for personal information. Legitimate companies don't ask for information this way. Delete the messages.
  • Create passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Don't use the same password for more than one account.
  • If you shop or bank online, use websites that protect your financial information with encryption. An encrypted site has "https" at the beginning of the web address; "s" is for secure. (NCCC uses encryption on all its pages, including this one!)
  • If you use a public wireless network, don't send information to any website that isn't fully encrypted.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall on your computer.
  • Set your computer's operating system, web browser, and security system to update automatically.

Red Flags

  • mistakes on your bank, credit card, or other account statements
  • mistakes on the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan
  • your regular bills and account statements don't arrive on time
  • bills or collection notices for products or services you never received
  • calls from debt collectors about debts that don't belong to you
  • a notice from the IRS that someone used your Social Security number
  • mail, email, or calls about accounts or jobs in your minor child's name
  • unwarranted collection notices on your credit report
  • businesses turn down your checks
  • you are turned down unexpectedly for a loan or job

What to Do If You Become a Victim

Call one of the nationwide credit reporting companies and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you call must contact the other two so they can put fraud alerts on your files. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days.

Equifax (800) 525-6285
Experian (888) 397-3742
TransUnion (800) 680-7289

Get credit reports from each bureau. Verify all information is correct and immediately dispute anything that is inaccurate. If you see signs of fraud, contact the credit reporting company.

An Identity Theft Report can help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop a company from collecting debts caused by Identity Theft, and get information about accounts a thief opened in your name.

To create an Identity Theft Report:

  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Your completed complaint is called an FTC Affidavit.
  • Take your FTC Affidavit to your local police, or to the police where the theft occurred, and file a police report.
  • Get a copy of the police report.
  • The two documents comprise and Identity Theft Report.