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.
Prevent Identity Theft
Take steps to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Secure your social security number (SSN) or (CPN, SCN). Don’t carry your CPN, SCN or social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your SSN, CPN or SCN 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 for several days.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
- Review your receipts. 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 its 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.
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 (PDF, Download Adobe Reader) that shares detailed tips, checklists, along with sample letters.
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