Recent incidents, including unauthorized access to millions of credit
card numbers, highlight the need to protect yourself and your family
from identify theft. Identity theft occurs when one person uses
another's identification, such as name, address, driver's license
number, social security number, mother's maiden name, and birth date to
obtain credit, banking (Checking accounts, bank debit cards, etc.) or
other services. Identity theft can result from: Lost or
stolen wallet or purse; theft of credit card number by a computer hacker
into a corporate database; or theft of credit applications, statements,
or checks from trash or mail. Identify thieves will use
identification information to obtain new credit cards, open checking
accounts, get a bogus driver's license or social security card, make
long distance calls, and more. Personal information that needs
protection includes SSN, birth date, driver's license number, ATM or
debit card PIN number, bank account or credit card number, and long
distance PIN number.
Preventing Identity Theft
The most important step to prevent identity theft is to protect
personal information. Make the following practices routine:
- Memorize passwords and pin numbers. Do not carry these
numbers in your wallet or purse.
- Keep photocopies of driver's license, credit cards, social
security and insurance cards and other contents of your wallet or
purse, plus credit account, tax records, cancelled checks and
other personal financial information in a secure place in your
home. You will need this information if your identity is
compromised. Shred all such records before throwing them
- If your driver's license, military identification card,
passport, or any other form of identification is lost or stole,
immediately report the loss to the issuing authority.
- Do not give your social security, bank account or credit card
numbers to any unsolicited callers.
- Release your Social Security Number only when absolutely
necessary when required by law. Do not have your SSN,
driver's license, or phone number pre-printed on your blank
- Reduce the number of credit cards you actively use, and cancel
all accounts you have not used for over six months. Any open
account appears on your credit report, and can be used by an
- Use credit cards that have your photo on them. This makes
it more difficult for an imposter to use stolen cards at a store.
- If you receive an offer for a pre-approved credit card or loan
but are not interested, shred the application form before throwing
away. Identity thieves have been known to go through trash
looking for useful financial information.
- Always remove credit card receipts and ATM slips after a
- Check your bank account and credit billing statements carefully
each month for unauthorized activity.
- When creating a password for an ATM card, long distance account,
credit card or other form of credit, do not use common numbers
such as your birth date or the last four digits of your SSN.
Avoid using your mother's maiden name or your birthplace, which
may appear in public records.
- The next time you order checks have only your
initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If
someone takes your check book they will not know if you sign your
checks with just your initials or your first name but your bank will
know how you sign your checks. But you should
know that your bank never looks at the signature line.
- When you are writing checks to pay on your credit
card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the
"For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The
credit card company knows the rest of the number and anyone who
might be handling your check as it passes through all the check
processing channels won't have access to it.
- Put your work phone # on your checks instead of
your home phone. If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home.
Never have your SS# printed on your checks (DUH!) you can add it if
it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
- Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine, do
both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what
you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone
numbers to call and cancel.
Indications/Warnings of Identity Theft
The following are indicators that you may have been the victim of
- You receive bills from a credit account you did not open, or see
unauthorized charges on your credit, long distance, or bank
- You are contacted by a collection agency regarding a debt you
did not incur.
- Bank and credit billing statements do not arrive on schedule.
- You are turned down for a credit card, loan, mortgage or other
form of credit due to unauthorized debts on your credit report.
Ways to Recover From Identity Theft
As soon as possible, file a theft report with the police. Many
banks and credit agencies require such a report before they will
acknowledge that a theft has occurred.
- If you discover that you are a victim of identity theft, go to http://www.consumer.gov/military/
and click on the appropriate service seal at the top of the page
to file a complaint with the federal trade commission's identity
theft data clearinghouse. Your complaint will be available
to law enforcement agencies investigating identity theft.
- Contact the three primary credit reporting bureaus to have a
fraud alert placed on your report. Information regarding how
to contact the credit bureaus can be obtained by going to: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/idenalrt.htm.
Send a brief victim statement to each of the credit bureaus to
include in your file. In the statement, explain to the best
of your knowledge how the identity theft occurred.
- If your wallet or purse is stole, immediately cancel your old
credit cards and get replacements.
- Put a "stop payment" on all lost or stolen
checks. Be aware, however, that many banks require your
signature or a signed affidavit to begin a stop payment order, and
a fee may be imposed. If necessary, ask your bank to open a
new account with a new number.
- If your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, contact the issuer
to cancel the card. If you get a new ATM or debit card, do
not use your old password.
- If someone else has opened credit card accounts in your name
without authorization, contact the creditors immediately by phone
and in writing. Cancel the accounts.
- Notify the post office if you believe someone has filed a change
of address form in your name, or has used the mail to commit
credit or bank fraud in your name.
- If your long distance calling card is stole, or if you find
unauthorized charges on your bill, report it to the security fraud
department at your long distance carrier. Ask to have the
old account closed and a new account number issued to you.
Also ask the company to require a secret password before making
changes to your account.
For Additional Information
Visit the following websites: