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How to protect yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft has become a major crime threatening people everywhere. Thieves steal personal information such as credit card account numbers, bank account numbers, and social security numbers. Then they assume the victim's identity to open accounts and run up charges, or make fraudulent charges to existing accounts.

One of the largest forms of identity theft is called phishing* or carding. This involves thieves sending emails to deceive people into disclosing personal information. Specifically, you may receive an email that appears to be sent by a company you know requesting that you validate or confirm personal information to keep your account active. Once you provide that information, the criminals use it to order goods and services using your name.

How can you prevent phishing*, carding and other forms of identity theft?

  • Telephone the company cited in any unsolicited email to verify the legitimacy. Never use the phone number or contact information provided in the email you received. Look up the number for yourself.
  • Never provide personal information through email. Most banks and credit institutions will never use email for requesting your personal information.
  • Never type personal information into a web site unless you initiated the transaction or know for certain with whom you are dealing.
  • Review credit card and bank account statements every month to check for unauthorized charges.
  • Contact the bank or creditors if your statements or bills do not arrive on time, or if there are charges you do not recognize.
  • Set up different passwords with your bank, credit card companies, or telephone companies.
  • Memorize your passwords and personal information numbers (PINs). Never write them down in an obvious place where others would be able to see.
  • Never give out personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the conversation or know with whom you are dealing.
  • Do not carry extra credit cards, social security card, birth certificate or passport in your wallet or purse except when necessary.
  • Properly destroy or shred documents that contain personal information such as old bank statements, invoices and insurance forms.

What to do if you become a victim?

  • If you suspect that your personal information has been stolen, take action immediately, and keep a record of your conversations and correspondence.
  • Contact your bank. They are there to help. This type of crime hurts them too.
  • Contact the Fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus (listed below).
  • Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
  • Report suspicious activity and file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov or by calling the Identity Theft Hotline toll free 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338). TDD 1-866-653-4261.

How to contact the major credit bureaus.

To order your credit report, call 800-685-1111 Or write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 To report fraud, call: 800-525-6285/TDD 800-255-0056 And write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

To order your credit report, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) Or write: P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013 To report fraud, call 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)/TDD 888-972-0322 and write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

Trans Union:
To order your credit report, call: 800-916-8800 or write: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022. To report fraud, call: 800-680-7289/TDD 877-553-7803 and write: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634-6790

How to see what is in your credit report.

All U.S. consumers will become eligible for free reports on the following schedule: WESTERN STATES: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) will become eligible on December 1, 2004; MIDWESTERN STATES: (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) will become eligible on March 1, 2005; SOUTHERN STATES: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas ) will become eligible on June 1, 2005; and EASTERN STATES: (Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia) and Puerto Rico, and all U.S. territories will become eligible on September 1, 2005.

After December 1, 2004 visit www.annualcreditreport.com to request your free credit report or request the report by phone or mail:

Toll-free number: 877-322-8228 Mailing address: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 Requests by phone or mail will be processed within 15 days of receipt.

*Phishing is a deception trick where identity thieves send fake e-mails to trick unsuspecting customers into divulging personal or financial information. Many of the e-mails feature company logos and official sounding language. In addition, some link to servers that show an exact copy of the real company website pages.

First published 2006-12-31. The last major review or update of this information was on 2011-04-07. Your feedback using the form below helps us correct errors and omissions on this page.