ID theft typically occurs when a victim's social security number or other personal identifying information is stolen and used to obtain credit cards, loans or commit another form of fraud in the victim's name. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country - and consumers must be on alert.
Take preventative measures. The most common ways identity thieves obtain other people’s personal information is by stealing it either online or from people’s mailboxes and trashcans. Be careful with your personal information. Reduce your chances of ID theft by:
Getting smart about internet safety and protecting sensitive information online.
Opting out of pre-screened offers for credit cards and insurance. Learn more about reducing junk mail and spam or call 1-888-5-OPTOUT to greatly reduce the amount of mail you receive.
Keeping necessary documents with sensitive information in a safe place. Never leave items like your social security card in places that are vulnerable to theft such as your wallet or car.
Shredding any documents that contain sensitive information before disposing of them.
Check your credit report. Unlike other crimes, many victims don’t even know their identity has been stolen. Check your credit report every year to make sure you spot any inaccuracies. You can request your credit report for free from each of three reporting bureaus every year by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Learn more about credit scores and reports.
Alert authorities. Report identity theft to local law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – which tracks ID theft incidents in a central database to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute these crimes. You can file a complaint through the FTC's online complaint form or by calling the Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). Be sure to call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.
In addition you may wish to complete an Identity Theft Affidavit - a document you may need in order to take further action to restore your credit history.
Freeze your credit. If you suspect that you are a victim you may prevent credit reporting agencies from sharing your credit history with new creditors by placing a security freeze on your credit report. A security freeze will halt any application for a new line of credit and remain in effect until you request that it be lifted.
Things to know about a security freeze:
If you are an ID theft victim, or report the theft of personal information to law enforcement, you will not be charged for a security freeze. Otherwise it may cost up to $10 to place and/or remove each freeze.
You must contact each credit reporting agency separately to place a security freeze.
The credit reporting agency has up to 5 business days to place the freeze.
You will receive written confirmation within ten business days after the freeze is in place. You will also be provided with instructions to "thaw" the freeze for a period of time or remove it all together.
It can take up to 3 business days to remove a security freeze. Remember to plan ahead if you are going to apply for new credit, such as a credit card, a car loan or a mortgage.
There are certain people who can still access your report while it is frozen, for example, your current credit card company, someone collecting a judgment against you, a government agencies, insurance companies for underwriting purposes, or a future landlord.
Place a fraud alert. A fraud alert is a statement in your credit file that notifies anyone requesting a copy of your credit report that you may be a victim of ID theft. There are three different types of fraud alerts: an initial alert, an extended alert and an active duty alert. You must provide proof of your identity to place a fraud alert.
Initial alert. If you think that you are - or about to become - a victim, contact each credit reporting agency and request an initial fraud alert. A fraud alert will be placed in your file for 90 days (or fewer if you request a shorter period of time). You are also entitled to a free copy of your file.
Extended alert. If you submit an "identity theft report" (such as an Identity Theft Affidavit) to a credit reporting agency you can get a 7-year fraud alert placed on your file. As part of the extended fraud alert, potential creditors must call you to verify that you requested an extension of credit before granting it. The credit reporting agency may not provide your name to any third parties that offer credit or insurance, unless you initiated contact with them, for 5 years after the alert was placed, and instruct the other two credit reporting agencies to also add fraud alerts to your files.
An active duty alert. If you are on active military duty (or are a reservist on active duty), you can get you may place an "active duty alert" on your credit report to help minimize the risk of ID theft while you are deployed. An active duty alert will remain in your file for up to 1 year. The credit reporting agency may not provide your name to any third parties that offer credit or insurance, unless you initiated contact with them, for 2 years, and instruct the other two credit reporting agencies to also add fraud alerts to your files. Learn more about consumer protections for servicemembers.
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