Identity theft: the unauthorized possession of one's personal
identification and information and the use of this information to
fraudulently conduct business and other affairs including obtaining
credit or funds. During 2004, 9.3 million American adults became
victims of identity theft, according to the Better Business Bureau.
Identity thieves will open new accounts in other people's names and
rack up debts on existing accounts. To do this, these thieves may
use consumers' Social Security numbers, bank account information,
addresses, or phone numbers. Some consumers have been denied jobs or
insurance or have been arrested for crimes they did not commit--all
because their identity was stolen.
Review the topics to the left to see how you can prevent identity
theft and what to do if you become a victim.
How can your identity be stolen
Thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal
1. stealing your wallet or purse containing your indentification,
credit, and bank cards.
2. stealing your mail, including your bank and credit card
statements, pre-approved credit offers, and tax information. Also
stealing your garbage and looking for discarded information.
3. fraudulently obtaining your credit report by posing as a landlord
4. buying your personal information from "inside" sources. For
example, an identity thief may pay a store, restaurant, or hotel
employee for information about you.
5. taking information about you from the internet.
Take steps to help prevent identity theft
While we cannot prevent identity theft entirely, the Better Business
Bureau, along with many other financial institutions have some tips
to minimize our risks:
1. before revealing any personal information, find out how it will
be used and whether it will be shared with others.
2. pay attention to your billing cycles. Contact your creditors
immediately if your bill does not show up on time.
3. minimize the number of credit cards you carry; only carry the
ones you need.
4. guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office
collection boxes or at your local post office.
5. keep items with personal information in a safe place. Shred or
tear up your charge receipts, copies of credit applications,
insurance forms, bank checks, and statements that you are
discarding, expired charge cards, and credit offers you get in the
6. do not carry your Social Security card; leave it in a secure
place. Give out your Social Security number only when absolutely
necessary. Ask to use other forms of identification when possible.
7. order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major
credit bureaus at least once a year. Review the reports to make sure
they are accurate and include only the activities you have
8. don't be a victim of "phishing" which is when thieves send
e-mails that look as if they come from legitimate companies
requesting certain personal information. Never provide personal
information such as Social Security, credit card, and bank account
numbers or user names and passwords to these e-mails. Be very
suspicious of e-mail that was sent to you unsolicited.
9. if you are shopping on-line, make sure the site is secure. Sites
that have technology to secure transactions will have "https"
instead of "http" in their web address on the page that asks for
credit information. Another way to tell if the site is secure is if
you see an icon of a locked padlock which is usually at the bottom
of the screen.
10. write "check photo ID" in ink on the back of your credit cards
near your signature. This will alert the store clerk to check the
credit card against your photo id.
11. if you still use your Social Security number as your driver's
license number, get it changed to a generic number.
12. be careful to protect yourself while shopping in malls and
stores. Do not leave purses or wallets unattended or in easy places
on your person to pick. Watch for people standing nearby with a cell
phone with a camera. With camera cell phones available now, someone
can easily take a clear picture of the information on your credit
13. immediately open your credit card statements and check for
unfamiliar purchases. Keep your credit card receipts in one place
and cross check them against your monthly statement. Shred the
statement and receipts when you are through with them.
14. don't give out information to companies that should already have
that information. For example, your bank should never call you
asking for your checking account number. They have that information.
Things to do when you think you have been a victim of identity
1. If you feel that there is a chance that your credit or bank
accounts may be compromised, contact one of the three major credit
bureaus. Previously, you had to contact all three credit bureaus,
but now you only need to call one to place a fraud alert on all
A fraud alert is supposed to result in creditors contacting you
before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your
2. Close your accounts but notify the lender or bank that your
account numbers have been compromised and that you would like a new
account. If you have any problems doing this, change banks.
3. File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your
4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC keeps
records of identity theft cases used by law enforcement for
Review the steps to prevent identity theft to avoid any additional
problems in the future.
Related web sites
Better Business Bureau/BBBOnline
4200 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22203
The Federal Trade Commission
Fight Identity Theft
Identity Theft Resource Center
National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center
Fraud hotline: 800-876-7060
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse