Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception.
Unlike your fingerprints, which are unique to you and cannot be given to someone else, your personal data (Social Security number, bank account, credit card number, and other valuable identifying data) can be used, if they fall into the wrong hands, to personally profit at your expense.
The result for identity theft victims is often out-of-pocket financial losses and the financial costs of restoring the victim's identity.
Avoiding Identity Theft
- Never write your PIN (Personal Identification Number) on any of your ATM cards.
- Take only the ATM and credit cards you need for personal or business purchases when you leave your home.
- Carefully review the specific transactions charged to your account before paying the bill. If any transactions look fraudulent, call the credit card company.
- Shred monthly bank statements, credit-card bills, or other documents with personal financial information on them before putting them in the trash.
- Tear up or shred pre-approved credit card solicitations when you don't want to accept or activate that card.
- Request a copy of your credit report at least once a year--you can get one free credit report from each of the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) every year. Links take you to external sites.
- If the volume of the mail you get at home has dropped off substantially, check with the local post office to see if anyone has improperly filed a change-of-address card in your name.
If you think you are the victim of identity theft . . .
Immediately contact -
- The Federal Trade Commission to report the situation and get guidance on how to deal with it.
- The three major credit bureaus to inform them of the situation.
- Your local police department to have an officer take a report.
- Any businesses where the identity thief fraudulently conducted transactions in your name.
US Department of Justice (external link)