HOW TO USE THIS SITE
Identity theft can be a tricky crime for its victims. It can be hard to detect, understand, and resolve. It’s a multi-faceted crime that can happen in many unexpected ways.
By equipping yourself with enough knowledge and know-how, you can give yourself a fighting chance against fraud. This workbook is here to help. We suggest you print it out and put it in a binder. Then it will be ready if you ever need it.
Read through the information in this booklet thoroughly to educate yourself about how identity theft happens, and what you can do to protect yourself.
You can use the personalized survival checklist to know which steps you need to take to recover your identity. Take action as soon as possible to minimize the damage of identity theft.
You can use the log sheets to keep track of important details. It’s important to record every action you take, conversation you have, and dollar you spend resolving the fraud (recovery costs can be useful if your case ends up in court). Print out as many log sheets as you need; you should use at least one contact log for each creditor, bank, bureau, and agency that you contact.
Refer to the resource section for important addresses and phone numbers of agencies that you should contact if you believe you have been a victim of identity theft. Putting this workbook in a binder will give you a convenient place for the documents relevant to an actual identity theft situation.
This could include credit card statements containing fraudulent charges, copies of your credit reports showing unauthorized accounts, letters from agencies trying to collect on debts you did not incur, and copies of police reports and other important documents you collect.
Even after you’ve jumped through hoops to clear your good name, you may still experience problems possibly months or years down the road. Keeping your binder will provide a one-stop source for relevant information pertaining to your case. By staying organized, taking good notes, and keeping important documentation in one spot, you can win the fight against this complicated and widespread crime.
WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT?
Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information for their own gain. Identity thieves may use your name, Social Security number, date of birth, and any other personal and financial information they’ve obtained about you to apply for credit cards or loans, sign up for utilities, or steal money from your existing accounts.
A successful thief can steal thousands of dollars in a victim’s name. Often, the victim doesn’t even know about the fraud until months or years later, when their credit is wrecked and collection agencies start calling about delinquent accounts.
Criminal and medical identity theft also exist. A thief may pretend to be you after committing a crime or when needing medical care. It often falls upon the victim of criminal or medical identity theft to prove the thief’s criminal and medical records from your own.
HOW DOES IDENTITY THEFT HAPPEN?
Identity theft can happen to anyone, and there is no way to fully protect yourself from the crime. Here are some ways that identity thieves get a hold of your information:
- Lost or stolen wallets
- Card-skimming, or stealing your personal information during a transaction
- “Friendly” theft, or identity theft by friends, family members, co-workers, and other people you know
- Mailbox raiding and dumpster diving for your personal and financial information
- Online methods, including e-mail phishing schemes in which a thief impersonates your bank or other trusted companyyou do business with to try and lure personal information out of you
- Data breaches, or hacking into company systems to gain customer information
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M A VICTIM?
Here are a few warning signs that indicate your identity may have been stolen:
- Your monthly credit card or bank statements show unauthorized transactions.
- Your credit reports list unauthorized accounts, such as new credit cards or loans.
- You notice your mail is delivered sporadically, or you don’t receive your usual monthly credit card or bank account statements.
- You receive credit cards in the mail for which you did not apply, or mail concerning assets or purchases you know nothing about.
- You are denied for new credit or loans, or offered poor rates or terms,for no apparent reason.
- You receive phone calls from collection agencies about accounts you did not open or purchases you did not make.
You are also at risk of identity theft if you have lost or stolen credit and debit cards, Social Security card, driver’s license, or other sensitive documents containing personal or financial information.
If you receive a notice that your information has been compromised in a security breach (i.e. fraudsters have hacked into a corporate database containing your personal information), you should carefully monitor your credit for signs of fraud.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF?
There are many things you can do to limit the chances of identity thieves stealing your identity.
- Always shop securely online. Look for “https” in the address bar (the “s” stands for “secure”) and the security lock icon in the bottom right of the web browser window.
- Beware of popular phishing schemes via phone and e-mail.
- Limit the sensitive information you post about yourself on online social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
- Install firewall, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software on your computer.
- Use complex pass codes for websites and debit cards. Always choose an unpredictable combination of letters and numbers.
- Shield your PIN from others at the ATM and cash register.
- Make sure you wipe your hard drive (totally erase all of your personal data) before you donate, recycle, or toss your old computer.
- Shred financial documents, receipts, and mail, both at home and atthe office.
- Consider a locked mailbox or a PO Box, especially if you share a mailbox with others.
- Never have your driver’s license number printed on your checks. Also, never have new checks sent to your mailbox. Always pick them up from your local bank branch.
- Only keep what you need in your wallet. Never carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, or written ATM pass codes.
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service that quickly alerts you to any suspicious activity on your credit report.
WHAT IS CREDIT MONITORING?
Signing up for a credit monitoring service is an easy, low-cost way to keep tabs on your credit and protect yourself against identity theft.
Instead of remembering to check your credit reports regularly, a credit monitoring service continuously checks them for you. Anytime there is activity—like when someone pulls your credit report or when a new account is opened in your name—you will receive an alert. Make sure that you’ve authorized each action, and confirm that it’s not evidence of an identity thief at work.
Credit monitoring is a great way to know about fraudulent activity before it wrecks your credit. Remember to also closely inspect your credit card and bank statements each month for fraudulent transactions. The sooner you learn that your identity has been stolen, the easier it is to get it back.