Identity Theft: Tips for Consumers
"Consumers targeted by identity thieves usually do not know that
they have been victims until the hijackers fail to pay the bills or repay the
loans, and collection agencies begin dunning the consumers for payment of
accounts they didn't even know they had."
—The Federal Trade
The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve has described
identity theft as "one of the fastest growing crimes in the United
What to do if it happens to you:
If you have been a victim of identity theft, the following are government and
nonprofit resources to help you:
Federal Trade Commission
- PHONE: FTC's Identity Theft Toll Free Hotline:
1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261
- WEB: FTC's
Take Action Immediately
- FACTS FOR CONSUMERS:
What It's All About
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
How to reduce your chances of becoming a future victim of identity
- Check financial statements promptly. Always review your
monthly banking, brokerage, and credit-card statements for accuracy. Report
- Watch your credit. Order copies of your free credit report
every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You can order your free credit report at aannualcreditreport.com or calling 877-322-8228, or by filling out the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA. 30348-5281.
- Freeze your credit files. Consider placing a security freeze on your consumer credit reporting files. A powerful preventive tool, it enables you to stop the opening of new accounts which require a credit check unless you expressly authorize this checking by the entity that requests this information. See Freeze Identity Thieves Out of Consumers' Credit Files for more information and see if your state offers you the right to get the security freeze.
- Be stingy with information. Never disclose your Social
Security number, birth date, mother's maiden name or other sensitive information unless you initiated the
transaction. On paper documents, don't include such data unless required to do
so on an official application for employment, financing, or insurance. (Ask
employers, schools, and other business to offer alternatives.) Never
put such information on personal Web pages or résumés or
- Just say no. Consider “opting out” of information-sharing
at your financial institutions. (Check your company's financial privacy
notice, which is mailed annually and usually posted on company Web sites, to
find out what you can opt-out of.) Also opt out of pre-approved credit offers by calling the
Credit Reporting Industry Pre-Screening Opt-Out Number at 888-567-8688.
- Travel light. Don't carry ID that contains sensitive data
like your Social Security number unless absolutely necessary.
- Lock it up. Safeguard your driver's license and other
government ID at all times. Lock desks, cabinets, and safes containing such
information in your office and home.
- Shred and destroy. Before throwing out files containing
Social Security numbers, account numbers, and birth dates, shred them with a
cross-cut shredder. Destroy CDs or floppy disks containing sensitive data by
shredding, cutting, or breaking them. Use hard-drive shredding software or
remove and destroy your hard drive before discarding a computer. Just deleting
files isn't enough.
- Guard mail. Use a locked mailbox or slot to
receive mail at home. Deposit mail in postal mailboxes or in the post office
to discourage mail theft.
- Keep your eye on the prize. Try not to let waiters, sales
clerks, or gas-station attendants disappear from view with your credit or
debit card, to avoid “skimming.” Crooks can use a handheld card reader to copy
the information from your card's magnetic strip.
- Beware strange ATMs. Avoid using private or
strange-looking automated teller machines, because they may be rigged to skim
data off your card's magnetic strip. Six- or seven-character PINs (personal
identification numbers) are harder to crack than shorter ones, but you may not
be able to use them at machines abroad.
- No surfing allowed. Watch out for “shoulder surfers” when
using pay phones or public Internet access; use your free hand to shield the
keypad. Don't use cellphones and cordless phones to conduct sensitive financial or medical
business, because eavesdroppers on other phones and those using eavesdropping
equipment may be able to overhear your conversations.
- Build a wall. Install firewalls and virus-detection
software on your home computers to discourage hackers.
- Log off. Quit your browser and log off after using public
Internet-access computers in libraries, Internet cafes, and the like. Don't
pay bills, bank, or conduct other financial transactions on public computers.
If you have a high-speed Internet connection at home, unplug the computer's
cable or phone line when you are not using it to discourage hackers.
- Deal only with reputable Web sites. Check privacy and
security policies of Web sites before making purchases, trading stocks, or
banking online. A professional-looking Web site is no guarantee of security.
Don't respond to unsolicited e-mail requests for personal information.
- Get complicated. Consider password-protecting all your bank and
brokerage accounts. Create passwords at least eight characters long.
- Check your workplace. Ask how your employer safeguards employee
records. Request that Social Security numbers not be used as employee ID
Source: Adapted from "Identity Theft: What you can do."
Consumers Reports. March 2007
For a complete list of actions to take
to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Identity Theft Resource Center:
- Federal Trade Commission:
Minimize Your Risk
- Federal Reserve Bank of Boston:
More You Can Do To Protect Your Personal Information
- To dispute a charge on your credit card:
Fraudulent Information in Credit Reports
- Opt-out of pre-approved credit card offers by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT or
1-888-567-8688, or visit www.optoutprescreen.com.
- To report a fraud or order a copy of your credit report:
- To get off marketing mail, calls and email lists:
Assistance: How And Where To Find Help
- To avoid telemarketer calls:
href="https://www.donotcall.gov/default.aspx">National Do Not Call
Privacy Now for Consumers Union's campaign on protecting your personal