Identity Theft

How to protect yourself against identity theft and respond if it happens.

Identity Theft

Identity (ID) theft is a crime where a thief steals your personal information, such as your full name or social security number, 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, and cost you time and money to restore your good name. 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. 

There are several common types of identity theft that can affect you:

  • 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 phony account on a social media platform.

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Replace Lost or Stolen Identification (ID) Cards

State-issued Identification

If your driver's license or state-issued identification (ID) card was recently lost or stolen, contact your state motor vehicle agency.

When requesting a state ID, you may need to provide other forms of ID that contain your photo, full name, and date of birth. Contact your state motor vehicle agency to find out what you need to bring with you to prove your identity.

Social Security Cards

If your Social Security card was lost or stolen, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to request a replacement card.

Medicare ID Cards

The SSA can also help you replace a lost or stolen Medicare card.

Medicaid ID Cards

To replace a lost or stolen Medicaid card, please contact your state Medicaid office.

U.S. Passports

If your passport was lost or stolen, you should report it to the Lost/Stolen Passport Section of the Passport Services Office at the U.S. Department of State (DOS). Reporting a passport as lost or stolen invalidates it. The DOS strongly recommends that you apply for a new passport at the time you report the loss or theft.

You may also wish to view information about passports lost or stolen abroad.

Permanent Resident (Green) Cards

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can help you replace a lost or stolen permanent resident (green) card.

Federal Employee ID Cards (Smart Cards)

The government agency that you work for can help you replace your Smart Card.

U.S. Military ID Cards

If you are a member of the military and your military ID card was lost or stolen, report it to your base Physical Security Officer, or go through your chain of command. To replace your military ID card, you should go to your nearest RAPIDS site. If you find a military ID card, please return it to the nearest military installation.

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Phishing and Vishing

Phishing is a scam in which you receive a fraudulent e-mail designed to steal your identity or vital personal information, such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and passwords. A phishing e-mail often asks you to verify this type of information. The e-mail may state that your account has been compromised or that one of your accounts was charged incorrectly, but you must click on a link in the e-mail or reply with your bank account number to confirm your identiy or protect your account.

Legitimate companies never ask for your password or account number via e-mail. The e-mail may even threaten to disable your account, if you don't reply, but don't believe it. If you receive an e-mail there are several actions you should take:

  • Don't click on any links in the e-mail. They can contain a virus that can harm your computer. Even if links in the e-mail say the name of the company, don't trust them. They may redirect to a fraudulent website.
  • Don't reply to the e-mail itself. Instead forward the e-mail to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov.
  • If you believe that the e-mail is valid, contact the company using the phone numbers, listed on your statements or in the phone book. Tell the customer service representative about the e-mail and ask if your account has been compromised. You can also contact the company online by typing the company's web address directly into the address bar; never use the links to provided in the e-mail.
  • If you clicked on any links in the phishing e-mail or replied with the requested personal information, contact your bank directly to let them know and ask to have fraud alerts placed on your accounts, have new credit cards issued, or set new passwords.

Vishing

Similar to phishing, vishing scammers also seek to get you to provide your personal information. However, instead of using e-mail to request the information, vishing scammers use the phone to make their requests. You may be directed to call a phone number to verify an account or to reactivate a debit or credit card. If you have received one of these calls, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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Prevent Identity Theft

Take steps to protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Secure your social security number. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your social security number (SSN) when absolutely 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. 
  • Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” Shield the keypad when typing your passwords on computers and at ATMs. 
  • Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home. 
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
  • Review your receipts. Ask for carbon copies and incorrect charge slips as well. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
  • Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
  • Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work.
  • 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 their databases
  • Order your credit report once a year and review to be certain that it doesn't include accounts that you have not opened. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information.

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Report Identity Theft

If you are a victim of identity (ID) theft, report it immediately. The Federal Trade Commission and your local police department are critical in filing the complaint. Once you file the ID theft with the FTC, you will have an ID theft affidavit. Print and take this with you to file the crime with the local police and get a police report. These two documents together are your identity theft report. Your identity theft report will be very important as you resolve the problem with creditors, banks, and any other companies where fraudulent accounts were set up in your name. You may also report specific types of identity theft to other agencies.

  • Long-term Care Identity Theft - Report a claim to the long-term care ombudsman in your state, if the theft was a result of a stay in a nursing home or long-term care facility.
  • Medical Identity Theft - Contact your health insurance company’s fraud department or Medicare’s fraud office.
  • Tax Identity Theft - Report this type of ID theft to the Internal Revenue Service and your state’s Department of Taxation or Revenue.

In addition to federal government agencies, you should also report the theft to other organizations, such as:

  • Credit Reporting Agencies - Contact 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. Also get copies of your credit reports, to be sure that no one has already tried to get unauthorized credit accounts with your personal information.
  • Financial Institutions - Contact the fraud department at your bank, credit card issuers and any other places where you have accounts. You may need your ID theft reports from the police and Federal Trade Commission in order to report the fraud. 
  • Retailers and Other Companies - You will also need to report the fraud to companies where the identity thief created accounts, opened credit accounts, or even applied for jobs in order to clear your name.
  • State Consumer Protection Offices or Attorney General - Your state may offer resources to help you contact creditors, dispute errors and other helpful resources.

The Federal Trade Commission offers a publication, Taking Charge - What to do if Your Identity is Stolen that shares detailed tips, checklists, along with sample letters.

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Synthetic ID Theft

Synthetic identity theft is a new version of identity theft. In traditional ID theft, the thief steals all of the personal information of one person to create a new identity. However, with synthetic ID theft, a thief steals pieces of information from different people to create a new identity. For example, the thief may steal one person’s social security number, combine it with another person’s name, and use someone else’s address to create a brand new identity. The thief can then use this fraudulent identity to apply for credit, rent an apartment, or make major purchases.

Unfortunately, synthetic ID theft is difficult to detect because the fraud isn’t directly tied to just one person. Fraud alerts and monitoring services would not be able to stop or prevent these scams. Also, children’s social security numbers are often targeted in these frauds, because no one would be checking their credit scores until they are much older.

While you cannot prevent synthetic ID theft, you should still get copies of your credit report to check for accounts you did not open. Also, contact the credit reporting agencies to ask if there is a fragmented file (a sub-account that uses your social security number but not your name) attached to your main credit file. If this is the case, you may be the victim of synthetic identity theft. Report all cases of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission.

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Tax-Related Identity Theft

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security Number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. For important tips on preventing and reporting tax identity theft, refer to the information below.

Warning Signs 

To prevent tax identity theft, be wary of any Internal Revenue Service (IRS) letter or notice that states:

  • More than one tax return was filed using your SSN.
  • You owe additional tax, refund offset, or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
  • IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you.

The IRS does not initiate contact with a taxpayer by sending an e-mail, text, or social message requesting personal or financial information.

Dealing with Tax-Related Identity Theft

If you suspect someone used your Social Security Number for a tax refund or a job--or the IRS sends you a letter or notice indicating a problem--take these steps:

  • Respond immediately to any IRS notice; call the number provided.  
  • File a report with the local police.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the lead federal agency for identity theft. You can also call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338 or TTY 1-866-653-4261.
  • Check with the Social Security Administration (SSA) for important Social Security Number (SSN) information.
  • Contact one of the three major credit agencies to place a fraud alert on your credit records:
  • Close any accounts opened without your permission or tampered with
  • Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit; print, then mail or fax according to instructions.
  • Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.

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