What is identity theft?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9.9 million Americans become victims of identity theft each year. These crimes involve personally identifying information (PII):
- Name and address
- Social Security number
- Credit card numbers
- Email or other passwords
Many people associate such crimes with online scams like phishing emails. However, most identities are stolen using low-tech methods. There are many ways thieves obtain your personal information:
- Old-fashioned stealing: They steal wallets and purses; mail, computers not protected with passwords, mailed bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and new checks or tax information sent through the U.S. Mail.
- Dumpster diving or trash rips: They rummage through communal or business trash to obtain copies of your checks, credit card or bank statements, or other records that typically bear your name, address, or telephone number.
- Phishing/spam: They send an email or pop-up message that looks like it came from a real bank or credit card company asking for identifying information. (This is called phishing.)
- Social engineering/pretexting: They pose as legitimate business or government officials to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
- Shoulder surfing: They watch you from a nearby location as you type in your password or credit card number, or listen in on your telephone conversation.
- Hacking: They gain unauthorized access into computer networks where information is stored.
What do thieves do with your personal information?
Thieves can use illegally obtained PII in various ways:
- Credit card or other financial or bank fraud
- Phone or utilities fraud
- Government documents fraud (obtain a drivers license, try to get government benefits, etc).
- They may get a job using your Social Security number.
- They may rent a house or get medical services using your name.
- They may give your personal information to police during an arrest. If they don’t show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.
Unfortunately, many consumers learn that their identity has been stolen after damage has been done. Due to a bad credit report, a victim may be denied new credit, loans, mortgages, or utility service. The victim may fail background checks for employment or firearms, or may even end up in jail.
Identity Theft Prevention & Resources
The Federal Trade Commission has provided consumers with an easy-to-follow brochure on deterring, detecting and defending yourself against identity theft.
If you suspect someone has tried to use or otherwise compromised your personal identity information –your social security number or a bank account number, for example – please consult the following sources for information on what actions your need to take.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC provides a booklet “Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft.”
- Call or write the Consumer Response Center at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
1-877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338)
Consumer Response Center, FTC
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20580.
Credit bureau contacts:
- Equifax, (800) 525-6285, http://www.equifax.com
- Experian, (888) 397-3742, http://www.experian.com
- TransUnion, (800) 680-7289, http://www.transunion.com
Social Security Administration
SSA Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271