Managing identity theft

Be proactive by learning the signs of fraud and identity theft as well as the options you can use to protect yourself.

It can be hard to notice that you were a victim of identity theft until you review your credit reports or financial statements and see charges you didn’t make, or are contacted by a debt collector about a debt that you don’t recognize. Take advantage of your right to obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus annually – visit www.annualcreditreport.com for more information. If you see anything out of the ordinary, even a small charge, on your financial statements or credit reports take action immediately.

If you become a victim of identity theft:

  • Contact your financial institution and credit card issuers immediately and alert them to the situation.
  • Contact one of the three major credit bureaus and discuss whether you need to place a fraud alert on your file. This will help prevent thieves from opening a new account in your name:
    Equifax | 1-800-525-6285
    Experian | 1-888-397-3742
    TransUnion | 1-800-680-7289
  • Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
  • File a report with law enforcement officials to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
  • Report all suspicious contacts to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).

Fraud alert and security freeze
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, consider placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report to minimize the damage.

A fraud alert, offered by the credit bureaus, is also called a fraud victim statement. The statement appears on your credit report every time it is requested, and remains for seven years or until you ask that it be removed. It says that you are a victim of fraud and asks that the business obtaining the report to contact you before granting credit in your name. Consider adding a telephone number in your statement. Credit bureaus may require proof of your identity and a copy of a police report or other valid identity theft report verifying you are a fraud victim.

A security freeze, also known as a credit freeze, can help you prevent potential creditors from accessing your credit file, thereby preventing identity thieves from opening accounts in your name. Before you take this step, it’s important to understand how security freezes work, and what they can and cannot do to help protect your credit. If you want to request a freeze, the requests must be done individually with each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Trans Union). Credit freeze requests can be made online, by phone or by certified US mail. When you place a security freeze on your account, you are issued a personal identification number (PIN) that will allow you to lift the security freeze at a later date. You can use this PIN to remove the security freeze from your file or authorize the temporary release of your credit report for a specific person or period after the security freeze is in place.

If you are actively seeking credit, you should understand that the process of lifting a security freeze may slow your authorized applications for credit. Try to plan ahead and lift a freeze if you are shopping around or preparing to actually apply for new credit. There may be costs associated with security freezes as well as the temporarily lift (thaw) of a credit freeze when you need to apply for a loan. The fees may vary based on whether you have been impacted by data breaches or identity theft. A security freeze generally does not apply to circumstances in which you have an existing account relationship and a copy of your report is requested by your existing creditor or its agents or affiliates for certain types of account review. Security freezes apply to access to your credit file and will not protect against non-credit related frauds, including tax refund identity theft and health insurance fraud.

Note: If you request your security freeze through the mail, you may need to include the following information in your letter:

  • Full name and any former names
  • Current address and former addresses (past 5 years)
  • Social security number
  • Full date of birth
  • Wet Signature (actual signature not an electronic signature)
  • Photocopies of 2 forms of identification, which can include driver’s license or id card, phone bill, utility bill

Additional Resources
The following is a list of useful websites for more information about how to protect yourself financially.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – site with identity theft resources

Federal Trade Comission – An agency that works to prevent consumer fraud. Call toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)

Fakechecks.org – A site sponsored by the American Bankers Association and the U.S. Postal Service

ScamBusters.org – A site to protect consumers against fraud.

United States Department of Justice-Internet & Telemarketing Fraud – A government site that focuses on the Internet and telesales

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or FDIC – Don’t Be an Online Victim – Information from the government agency regulating banks in the United States

National Consumer’s League Fraud Center – Information and recommendations to avoid fraud

Anti-Phishing Working Group – A global law enforcement association that focuses on eliminating fraud and identity theft

Comptroller of the Currency – Consumer Protection News – News from a federal agency dedicated to protecting the banking system of the United States

Social Security Online – Identity Theft Fact Sheet – Useful links prepared by the Social Security Administration

Fight Identity Theft – Site to raise awareness about risks and present measures that consumers can take to protect themselves

U.S. Postal Service Inspection – Identity Theft – Collection of recommendations and useful links

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.