Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without permission. Identity theft can damage your finances, credit history and reputation.
Warning Signs: Mistakes on accounts or your Explanation of Medical Benefits, regular bills go missing, calls from debt collectors for debts that aren't yours, notice from the IRS or calls/mail about accounts in your minor child's name.
How does it happen?
Thieves get your information in a number of different ways. They will steal information from trash, businesses, trick you into revealing information, take your wallet or purse. They will sometimes even pretend to offer a job, loan or apartment to get your personal information. Also, computer systems are hacked and personal information is sold. Thieves are always finding new ways to get to your personal information.
Reduce Your Risk
Make identity protection a habit and check your credit often.
Read your bank, credit and account statements, as well as your Explanation of Medical Benefits.
Respond quickly to notices from the IRS.
If someone asks for your Social Security Number: Ask, "Why do you need it? How will it be used? And, how will you protect it?"
Protect your personal information: be careful with your mail, shred sensitive documents, keep your important papers secure, limit what you carry with you and don't over share on social networks.
Online impersonators: don't click links in emails, type the name of the company in the web browser instead and call customer service and ask whether a request was sent or not.
Protect Your Computer
Use firewalls, antispyware and antivirus software.
Create strong passwords and change them frequently.
Keep your systems and security up to date.
Encrypt your data.
Be careful on Wi-Fi. Public wireless networks may not be secure. A "lock" icon on the browser's status bar means that the information you send only to that site is protected.
Lock up your laptop and only keep financial information on it when necessary. Do not use automatic logins.
Read privacy policies
What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
Act immediately! Place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. Contact one credit reporting bureau and they will contact the other two for you. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days.
Order your credit reports. ID theft victims get copies for free. Read through and contact the bureaus if you see any errors.
Create an Identity Theft Report. It can help you remove fraudulent information from your credit reports, stop a company from collecting debts caused by identity theft, and get information about accounts a thief opened in your name.
File a complaint with the FTC: ftc.gov/complaint or 877 438 4338. This will become your FTC Affidavit.
Take your FTC Affidavit to your local police station and file a police report. Get a copy of the police report.
The two documents then become your Identity Theft Report.