Unfortunately, it's not possible to prevent identity theft and credit fraud entirely. However, by managing your personal information carefully, and with a full understanding of its importance, you can substantially reduce the likelihood that it will happen to you.
How Do Thieves Steal An Identity?
Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
- Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
What To Do If You're Personal Information Has Been Compromised
The bottom line for online threats like phishing, spyware, and hackers is identity theft. ID theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. That's why it's important to protect your personal information.
If you're personal information is accidentally disclosed or deliberately stolen, taking certain steps quickly can minimize the potential for the theft of your identity.
If the Stolen Information Includes Your Financial Accounts
Close compromised credit card accounts immediately. Consult with Rocky Mountain Law Enforcement Federal Credit Union about whether to close the accounts immediately or first change your passwords and have us monitor for possible fraud. Place passwords on any new accounts that you open. Avoid using your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number (SSN) or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
If the Stolen Information Includes Your Social Security Number
Call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. This alert can help stop someone from opening new credit accounts in your name.
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
An initial fraud alert stays on your credit report for 90 days. When you place this alert on your credit report with one nationwide consumer reporting company, you'll get information about ordering one free credit report from each of the companies. It's prudent to wait about a month after your information was stolen before you order your report. That's because suspicious activity may not show up right away. Once you get your reports, review them for suspicious activity, like inquiries from companies you didn't contact, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain. Check that information—like your SSN, address, name or initials, and employers—is correct.
If the Stolen Information Includes Your Driver's License or Other Government-Issued Identification
Contact the agencies that issued the documents and follow their procedures to cancel a document and get a replacement. Ask the agency to "flag" your file to keep anyone else from getting a license or another identification document in your name.
Once you've taken these precautions, watch for signs that your information is being misused. For example, you may not get certain bills or other mail on time. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
Other signs include:
- Receiving credit cards that you didn't apply for;
- Being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason; and
- Getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn't buy.
Continue to read your financial account statements promptly and carefully, and to monitor your credit reports every few months in the first year of the theft, and once a year thereafter. For more information on getting your credit reports free once a year or buying additional reports, read Your Access to Free Credit Reports.
If your information has been misused, file a report about your identity theft with the police, find additional help here.