What is identity
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally
identifying information, like your name, Social Security
number, or credit card number, without your permission, to
commit fraud or other crimes.
The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have
their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone
you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.
The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an
apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone
account in your name. You may not find out about the theft
until you review your credit report or a credit card
statement and notice charges you didnít makeóor until youíre
contacted by a debt collector.
Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims
can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of
dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name
and credit record. Some consumers victimized by identity
theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans
for education, housing or cars because of negative
information on their credit reports. In rare cases, they may
even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
thieves steal an identity?
Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally
identifying information such as your name and Social
Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial
account information. For identity thieves, this information
is as good as gold.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get
hold of your information, including:
1. Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for
bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
2. Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a
special storage device when processing your card.
3. Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or
companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to
reveal your personal information.
4. Changing Your Address. They divert your billing
statements to another location by completing a change of
5. Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses;
mail, including bank and credit card statements;
pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax
information. They steal personnel records, or bribe
employees who have access.
6. Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your
personal information from financial institutions, telephone
companies, and other sources. For more information about
pretexting, click here.
What do thieves do with a stolen identity?
Once they have your personal information, identity thieves
use it in a variety of ways.
Credit card fraud:
- They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When
they use the cards and don't pay the bills, the delinquent
accounts appear on your credit report.
- They may change the billing address on your credit card so
that you no longer receive bills, and then run up charges on
your account. Because your bills are now sent to a different
address, it may be some time before you realize there's a
Phone or utilities fraud:
- They may open a new phone or wireless account in your
name, or run up charges on your existing account.
- They may use your name to get utility services like
electricity, heating, or cable TV.
- They may create counterfeit checks using your name or
- They may open a bank account in your name and write bad
- They may clone your ATM or debit card and make electronic
withdrawals your name, draining your accounts.
- They may take out a loan in your name.
Government documents fraud:
- They may get a driver's license or official ID card issued
in your name but with their picture.
- They may use your name and Social Security number to get
- They may file a fraudulent tax return using your
- They may get a job using your Social Security number.
- They may rent a house or get medical services using your
- They may give your personal information to police during
an arrest. If they don't show up for their court date, a
warrant for arrest is issued in your name.
How can you find out if your identity was stolen?
The best way to find out is to monitor your accounts and
bank statements each month, and check your credit report on
a regular basis. If you check your credit report regularly,
you may be able to limit the damage caused by identity
theft. For more information, visit the Detect Identity Theft
Unfortunately, many consumers learn that their identity has
been stolen after some damage has been done.
- You may find out when bill collection agencies contact you
for overdue debts you never incurred.
- You may find out when you apply for a mortgage or car loan
and learn that problems with your credit history are holding
up the loan.
- You may find out when you get something in the mail about
an apartment you never rented, a house you never bought, or
a job you never held.
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should you do if your identity is stolen?
Filing a police report, checking your credit reports,
notifying creditors, and disputing any unauthorized
transactions are some of the steps you must take immediately
to restore your good name. To learn more about these steps
and more, visit the DEFEND: Recover from Identity Theft
section. To file a complaint, click here.
Should you file a police report if your identity is stolen?
A police report that provides specific details of the
identity theft is considered an Identity Theft Report, which
entitles you to certain legal rights when it is provided to
the three major credit reporting agencies or to companies
where the thief misused your information. An Identity Theft
Report can be used to permanently block fraudulent
information that results from identity theft, such as
accounts or addresses, from appearing on your credit report.
It will also make sure these debts do not reappear on your
credit reports. Identity Theft Reports can prevent a company
from continuing to collect debts that result from identity
theft, or selling them to others for collection. An Identity
Theft Report is also needed to place an extended fraud alert
on your credit report.
You may not need an Identity Theft Report if the thief made
charges on an existing account and you have been able to
work with the company to resolve the dispute. Where an
identity thief has opened new accounts in your name, or
where fraudulent charges have been reported to the consumer
reporting agencies, you should obtain an Identity Theft
Report so that you can take advantage of the protections you
are entitled to.
In order for a police report to entitle you to the legal
rights mentioned above, it must contain specific details
about the identity theft. You should file an ID Theft
Complaint with the FTC and bring your printed ID Theft
Complaint with you to the police station when you file your
police report. The printed ID Theft Complaint can be used to
support your local police report to ensure that it includes
the detail required.
A police report is also needed to get copies of the thiefís
application, as well as transaction information from
companies that dealt with the thief. To get this
information, you must submit a request in writing,
accompanied by the police report, to the address specified
by the company for this purpose. You can find more
information and a model letter here.
How long can the effects of identity theft last?
It's difficult to predict how long the effects of identity
theft may linger. That's because it depends on many factors
including the type of theft, whether the thief sold or
passed your information on to other thieves, whether the
thief is caught, and problems related to correcting your
Victims of identity theft should monitor financial records
for several months after they discover the crime. Victims
should review their credit reports once every three months
in the first year of the theft, and once a year thereafter.
Stay alert for other signs of identity theft.
Don't delay in correcting your records and contacting all
companies that opened fraudulent accounts. Make the initial
contact by phone, even though you will normally need to
follow up in writing. The longer the inaccurate information
goes uncorrected, the longer it will take to resolve the
can you do to help fight identity theft?
A great deal.
Awareness is an effective weapon against many forms identity
theft. Be aware of how information is stolen and what you
can do to protect yours, monitor your personal information
to uncover any problems quickly, and know what to do when
you suspect your identity has been stolen.
Armed with the knowledge of how to protect yourself and take
action, you can make identity thieves' jobs much more
difficult. You can also help fight identity theft by
educating your friends, family, and members of your
community. The FTC has prepared a collection of easy-to-use
materials to enable anyone regardless of existing knowledge
about identity theft to inform others about this serious
crime. To learn more, click here.