Identity theft is the unlawful use of another person’s identification. More often than not, personal information is obtained illegally and without the identity theft victim’s knowledge. 

How identity thieves get information
Identity thieves get smarter and smarter regarding ways to steal ID information. The following are ways many ID thieves obtain information:

  • Stolen wallets or purses.
  • Stolen mail.
  • Residential trash or the trash of local businesses.
  • Fraudulently obtained credit reports.
  • Business or personal records from their workplace.
  • Personal information shared over the Internet.

How identity thieves use information

  • Open new credit card accounts, and make purchases without paying the bills. The delinquent accounts are reported against the victim.
  • Use “Change of Address Forms” to divert mail to a different location so time elapses before unauthorized activity is reported.
  • Establish phone or wireless services.
  • Open new bank accounts and write fraudulent checks.
  • Make large purchases, such as an automobile, by applying for loans.

Consumer education sources:
The following websites provide further information for consumers:


How to minimize risk
Before revealing any personal identification information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others. Don’t divulge unnecessary information.

Other protections include:

  • Pay attention to billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if bills do not arrive on time.
  • Deposit outgoing mail at the post office.
  • Limit identifying information and credit cards carried to those necessary.
  • Do not give out personal information via phone, mail or over the Internet to undisclosed sources.
  • Request a copy of your credit report annually from any one of the three major credit bureaus for review.
    – Equifax – www.equifax.com or 800-525-6285
    – Experian – www.experian.com or 888-397-3742
    – Trans Union – www.transunion.com or 800-680-7289

If you become a victim
If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible, and keep a record with the details of your conversations and copies of all correspondence:

  • Call the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies previously listed to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too.
  • Close the accounts that you know, or believe, 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.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).

An Internet threat that literally “fishes” for your personal information through bogus e-mails and web sites. Phishing is Internet piracy that seeks to obtain account numbers, passwords, social security information and other confidential information in order to loot your checking account or charge items on your credit cards.

How it Works
You might receive an e-mail that seems to come from a respected business, even one you have a relationship with, or a government agency. It might warn you of a problem that you must attend to immediately using words like, “Immediate Attention Required” or “Contact Us Immediately.” In most scams you will be redirected to a fraudulent website where your financial information is stolen. If you provide information at that time you may find yourself a victim of fraud.
Protect Yourself

  • If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply. And don’t click on the link in the message, either.
  • Use anti-virus software and a firewall, and keep them up to date.
  • Don’t email personal or financial information.
  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them.
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails.
  • Forward spam that is phishing for information to spam@uce.gov and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the phishing email.


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