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Identity Theft

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

Identity Theft

Identity (ID) theft happens when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud.

The identity thief may use your information to 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.

Warning Signs of ID Theft

You may not know that you’ve experienced ID theft immediately. You could be affected by ID theft if you receive:

  • Bills for items you didn't buy
  • Debt collection calls for accounts you didn't open
  • Denials for loan applications

Potential Victims of ID Theft

Anyone can experience identity theft. Children and seniors are both vulnerable to ID theft. Child ID theft may go undetected for many years. Victims may not know until they’re adults, applying for their own loans.

Seniors often share their personal information with doctors and caregivers. The number of people and offices that access seniors' information put them at risk.

Types of ID Theft

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

  • Tax ID theft - Someone uses your Social Security number to falsely file tax returns with the IRS or your state
  • Medical ID theft - Someone steals your Medicare ID or health insurance member number. Thieves use this information to get medical services or send fake bills to your health insurer.
  • Unemployment ID theft - Someone uses your personal information  to claim (and receive) unemployment benefits.

Read about how you can prevent identity theft.

Prevent Identity Theft

Keep these tips in mind to protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Secure your Social Security number (SSN). Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Only give out your SSN when necessary.
  • Don't share personal information (birthdate, Social Security number, or bank account number) because someone asks for it.
  • Collect mail every day. Place a hold on your mail when you are away from home for several days.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles tooltip Billing Cycle: the number of days between statements on a regularly recurring bill. . If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
  • Use the security features tooltip Security Feature: an app or setting on a wireless device that can help protect the device and the information on it from threats and vulnerabilities. on your mobile phone.
  • Update sharing and firewall settings tooltip Firewall: security monitoring software that analyzes and blocks or allows information traveling between the internet and your computer based on a defined set of security rules. when you're on a public wi-fi network tooltip Public WiFi Network: (WiFi hotspot) a network that anyone can use to connect to the internet or other networks. . Use a virtual private network (VPN) tooltip Virtual Private Network (VPN): a private network that connects your computer or mobile device to the internet and encrypts (codes) your information to protect your internet activity from monitoring or spying. , if you use public wi-fi.
  • Review your credit card and bank account statements. Compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
  • Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired credit cards. This can prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
  • Store personal information in a safe place.
  • Install firewalls and virus-detection software tooltip Virus Detection Software: (antivirus software) a computer program used to prevent, detect, and remove malicious programs that have been placed on your computer to spy on you or to do damage to your computer. on your home computer.
  • Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases
  • Review your credit reports tooltip Credit Report: a report that shows your bill payment history, current debt, and other financial information. once a year. Be certain that they don't include accounts that you have not opened. You can order it for free from Annualcreditreport.com.
  • Freeze your credit files with Equifax, Experian, Innovis, TransUnion, and the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange for free. Credit freezes prevent someone from applying for and getting approval for a credit account or utility services in your name.

Report Identity Theft

Report identity (ID) theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. The FTC will collect the details of your situation.

Differences in ID Theft Reporting

The difference between reporting ID theft online or phone is if you receive an ID theft report. An ID theft report helps you prove to businesses that someone stole your identity. This report helps you fix problems caused by the identity theft.

  • If you report by phone, you won't get an ID theft report.
  • If you report online, you will receive an ID theft report.

While reporting ID theft online, you can also create an account on IdentityTheft.gov. If you create an account, you'll:

  • Have access to pre-written letters that you can send to creditors to fix accounts.

  • Get a recovery plan to guide you through fixing problems caused by identity theft. 

  • Be able to track your progress in fixing problems that the identity theft caused.

If you want these resources, you must create an account on IdentityTheft.gov when you start reporting the theft. Download the FTC's publication for detailed tips, checklists, and sample letters. 

 

When to Report ID Theft to the Police

You may choose to report your identity theft to your local police station.  It could be necessary if:

  • You know the identity thief

  • The thief used your name in an interaction with the police

  • A creditor or another company requires you to provide a police report.  

Report Specific Types of Identity Theft

You may also report specific types of identity theft to other federal agencies.

Report Identity Theft to Other Organizations

You can also report the theft to other organizations, such as:

  • Credit Reporting Agencies - Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies to place fraud alerts or freezes on your accounts. 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. Confirm that the credit reporting agency will alert the other two credit reporting agencies.

  • National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center - Report cases of identity theft due to a stay in a nursing home or long-term care facility. 

  • Financial Institutions - Contact the fraud department at your bank, credit card issuers and any other places where you have accounts.  

  • Retailers and Other Companies - Report the crime to companies where the identity thief opened credit accounts or even applied for jobs.

  • State Attorney General Offices - Your state's attorney general might offer tips, checklists, or an advocate to help you recover from identity theft. These resources don't replace filing an ID theft report with the FTC.

You may need to get new personal records or identification cards if you're the victim of ID theft.  Learn how to replace your vital identification documents after identity theft. 

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Last Updated: July 23, 2021

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