Identity theft is a type of fraud where someone uses your personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account number, to open accounts or initiate transactions using your name, without your permission.


According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal your personal information, including:

They go through your garbage looking for bills or other papers with your personal information on it.

They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.

They pretend to be banks or companies, and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to give out your personal information.

  • Phishing is usually a two-part scam involving email and spoof websites. Thieves, also known as phishers, send email to a wide audience that appears to come from a reputable company. This is known as a phish email. In the phish email are links to websites that spoof or imitate a reputable company’s websites.
  • Criminals try to get victims to give up their personal information by using clever language, such as an urgent need for you to update your information immediately. Once they get it, your personal information can be used to steal or transfer money into a different account.
  • Criminals obtain email addresses from many places on the web. They also purchase email lists and sometimes guess email addresses. Thieves generally have no idea if people they send phish emails to are actual bank customers or not. They hope a percentage of the phish emails they send will be received by customers.
  • A new form of fraud, called vishing or voicemail phishing, involves emails that contain telephone numbers instead of links. Recipients of vishing emails are told to call this number and give personal and account information. Remember, contact your bank by using a phone number you know to be associated with it, like the number found on the back of your debit card.

Criminals move your billing statements to another location by completing a “change of address’ form.

They steal wallets, purses, and mail. Your mail might include bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records from employers or bribe employees who have access to your information.

concerned man in front of computer


Being proactive by learning the signs of identity theft can help you and your loved ones. 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 accounts or charges you didn’t authorize.

Take advantage of your right to obtain a free copy of your credit report. Visit the Annual Credit Report website for more information and if you see anything out of the ordinary, take action immediately.

If you become a victim of identity theft:

  • Contact your bank and credit card companies 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 were accessed or opened illegally.
  • 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 or call 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).


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.

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 stays there 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. 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.

security freeze, also known as a credit freeze, can help prevent creditors from accessing your credit file. This prevents 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 you request a security freeze, do it individually with each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). 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, the process of lifting a security freeze may slow your credit applications. Plan ahead and lift a freeze if you are shopping or preparing to 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 if you have been impacted by data breaches or identity theft.

woman doing bills on a computer


It’s important to understand identity theft and to take steps to protect yourself. Below are warning signs and tips on how to prevent identity theft.


  • Accounts on your credit reports that you didn’t open
  • Bills that you used to get are no longer delivered to you
  • Credit inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted
  • Inaccurate balances showing on your accounts in your credit reports
  • Incorrect personal information on your credit reports
  • Unauthorized withdrawal from your bank account


  • Carry only necessary information with you. Leave your Social Security card or unused credits cards at home in a safe and secure location.
  • Don’t write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
  • Keep your personal information in a secure place at home.
  • Limit the credit offers you receive.
  • Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. Instead, use an internet browser to type in a web address you know.
  • Shred account statements, or documents containing personal or financial information, before discarding.
  • Sign up for electronic statements and try to limit paper statements.
  • Remove your name from marketing lists.
  • Review your credit report at least once a year, looking for suspicious or unknown transactions.
computer with password lock illustration


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

Social Security Administration – Fraud Prevention and Reporting

U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Identity Theft Prevention Tips

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