Having your identity stolen and becoming a victim of fraud can wipe out years of savings and assets and threaten your future security.
The Federal Trade Commission reports identity theft has topped all consumer complaints for the 11th year in a row.
Stealing your identity
The first step in protecting yourself against identity theft is being aware of the ways thieves might access your information. They might:
- Claim to be a representative of your financial institution.
- Sift through your trash for discarded papers.
- Steal newly issued items such as credit cards, checks, utility bills, insurance statements, and benefits documents from your unsecured mailbox.
- Look over your shoulder at the ATM to capture your personal identification number (PIN).
Thieves also may use more sophisticated tactics such as:
- Phishing: Identity thieves send emails pretending to be financial institutions or other legitimate businesses, requesting your personal information to avoid an account closure or suspension.
- Skimming: Thieves use a special storage device that steals credit or debit card numbers, which they then use to process transactions with your account.
- Malware use: Scammers use malware, malicious software that affects computers, to obtain your personal information via the Internet.
Using your identity
With access to your name, address, Social Security number (SSN), bank or credit card statements, or other personal information, identity thieves can:
- Open fraudulent bank, credit card, or cellphone and other service accounts in your name.
- Change your account information such as your billing address and logins and passwords.
- Secure loans in your name.
Reporting identity theft
If you suspect that your identity has been compromised, act quickly! Most identity thieves who steal credit cards and other financial data act within the first 48 hours. If you notice any of the above, or if your wallet or purse has been lost or stolen:
- Alert creditors. Immediately contact all creditors to alert them to the theft, and place your accounts on fraud alert using one of these credit reporting agencies.
- Report the theft to police. File a police report with local authorities.
- Change all passwords on your online accounts.