What to Do if You Think You're an Identity Theft Victim

EDITOR'S NOTE: This material was prepared by the Federal Trade Commission, which provides many identity protection resources at www.ftc.gov and www.onguardonline.gov

It's important to protect your personal information, and to take certain steps quickly to minimize the potential damage from identity theft if your information is accidentally disclosed or deliberately stolen:

  • Close compromised credit card accounts immediately.
  • If someone steals your social security number (SSN), contact one of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion - and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports.
  • Monitor your credit report. Keep in mind that fraudulent activity may not show up right away.
  • Consult with your financial institution about handling the effects on bank or brokerage accounts.
  • Contact relevant government agencies to cancel and replace any stolen drivers licenses or other identification documents, and to "flag" your file.
  • Watch for signs of identity theft: late or missing bills, receiving credit cards that you didn't apply for, being denied credit or offered less favorable terms for no apparent reason, or getting contacted by debt collectors or others about purchases you didn't make.

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 your 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 your financial institution about whether to close bank or brokerage accounts immediately or first change your passwords and have the institution 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(es), 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:


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