Identity theft

Identity theft is an insidious form of online fraud wherein a person steals your personal and/or financial information, including your name, social security number or bank account number, and then uses this information to:

  • Open credit accounts in your name, or run existing accounts.
  • Obtain loans in your name, which will not be repaid.
  • Open bank accounts in your name in order to write bad checks.
  • Commit crimes, which result in arrest warrants being issued in your name.

In most cases, identity theft is more extensive than fraud, which usually involves a singular attempt to steal money from an existing account. Identity theft is much more extensive and can have a much more lasting effect. Identity theft can cause severe financial loss or damage your credit, and possibly lead to a lengthy resolution process.

Identity theft is often portrayed as only affecting those who shop, communicate, or do their business online. However, though thieves can obtain your information via online methods, the majority of identity theft takes place offline. Stealing wallets and purses, intercepting mail and rummaging through garbage are common tactics used by thieves to obtain confidential information.

In order to protect yourself:

  • Never give out personal information, such as checking account numbers, credit card numbers and especially your Social Security number. Never give out any of this information over the phone or on the Internet unless you can be certain who you are dealing with, you are the one initiating contact or know that your connection is secure.
  • Never carry any of your personal information with you, including Social Security cards or bank account cards.
  • Do not preprint your Social Security number, driver’s license number or phone numbers on your checks.
  • Only purchase checks and deposit slips from an approved check vendor.
  • Do not throw away any mail that contains personal information unless you tear or shred it first.
  • Contact major credit reporting companies periodically. Check all credit card statements and inspect them for any improprieties.
  • Cancel all unused credit cards, and cut them up before disposing of them.
  • Be wary at ATMs. Someone looking over your shoulder can obtain your PIN number and gain access to your account.
  • If any financial information is stored on a laptop, be sure to protect it with a password system, with a password that could not easily be guessed.
  • Be cautious of any promotions you choose to participate in on the phone or in the mail. Always be on guard and never take any unnecessary risks with your private and personal information.
  • Don’t leave outgoing mail in your mailbox. Drop it off at the Post Office or in a secured official Postal Service collection box.

If you believe that you are a victim of online fraud or identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that you take the following four steps immediately.

Place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting the fraud departments of any one of the three consumer reporting bureaus listed:

  • Equifax: 1-800-685-1111, 1-888-766-0008
    P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374
  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
  • TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800, 1-800-680-7289
    P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834

A fraud alert directs all creditors to contact you before any new accounts are opened or any changes are made to your existing accounts. By contacting any of the three companies, the company you speak with will be required to contact the other two, who will place an alert on their versions of your credit report. Once you place the fraud alert into your file, you are entitled to order free copies of your credit reports and to request that the bureaus display only the last four digits of your Social Security number on your credit reports. This alert means that any company that checks your credit will know that your information has been stolen, and they will be required to contact you by phone before authorizing any new credit.

Close the accounts that you know or believe have been broken into as soon as possible.

File a report with your local police department or with the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Request a copy of the report or the number of the report to submit to your creditors and anyone else that would require proof of the crime’s occurrence.

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC maintains a database of all identity theft cases which is used by law enforcement agencies for all investigations. Filing a complaint will also help the FTC learn more about the nature of identity theft and the problems the victims of identity theft are experiencing, in order to better assist you and other victims.

To contact the Federal Trade Commission, visit or call the FTC Hotline at (877) 438-4338. For more information visit the FDIC website.