What is Identity Theft and what you should do if you think your data has been stolen
Identity theft occurs when someone uses another person's information without their permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft is a serious crime that the Federal Trade Commission estimates effects some 10 million Americans each year.
Awareness is among the most powerful tools in the fight against identity theft. The more you know about how to protect your information and the information of others you come in contact with, the harder it is for identity thieves to commit their crimes.
Reducing my own risk of Identity Theft
While you can't entirely control whether you will become a victim, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card or other cards that show your SSN.
- Use caution when giving out your personal information. Scam artists "phish" for victims by pretending to be banks, stores or government agencies. They do this over the phone, in e-mails, with fake web sites, and in postal mail.
- Treat your trash carefully. Shred or destroy papers containing your personal information including credit card offers and "convenience checks" that you don't use.
- Protect your postal mail. Retrieve mail promptly. Discontinue delivery while out of town.
- Check your bills and bank statements. Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don't arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
- Check your credit reports. Review your credit report at least once a year. Check for changed addresses and fraudulent charges.
- Stop pre-approved credit offers. Pre-approved credit card offers are a target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).
- Ask questions. Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. If you're not satisfied with the answers, don't give your personal information.
- Protect your computer. Protect personal information on your computer by following good security practices.
- Use strong, non-easily guessed passwords.
- Use firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software that you update regularly.
- Download software only from sites you know and trust and only after reading all the terms and conditions.
- Don't click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.
For more information on minimizing your risk, visit these sites:
- The Federal Trade Commission
- The Social Security Administration "Identity Theft And Your Social Security Number"
What should I do if I think my personal information has been stolen
If you think your identity has been stolen, here's what to do:
- Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three consumer reporting companies listed below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. The fraud alert tells creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too. Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to order free copies of your credit reports, and, if you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports.
- Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the Online FTC Complaint Assistant Form when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
- File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report or at the very least, the number of the report, to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
- File your complaint with the FTC. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps us learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that we can better assist you.
For more detail or for the most current information regarding identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission's web site.
For information on what Shawnee State University is doing to reduce the risk of identity theft and data loss review Reducing the Risk of Information Theft at SSU.
For more detail or for the most current instructions on what immediate steps identity theft victims should take, visit the Federal Trade Commission's site entitled Identity Theft Victims: Immediate Steps.