Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes across the United States and in the world. Millions of people, through computer and human error, have had their personally identifiable information, such as social security numbers, passport numbers, drivers’ license numbers, account numbers, and other personal information exposed allowing the identity thief to take some action in the victim’s name, such as applying for loans, making credit card purchases and withdrawing back account balances. And the actions that a victim must take to repair his or her credit rating can be very costly.
In cases of identity theft, sometimes you may know who or what organization that exposed your information, but many times you will only know of the theft when you receive a bank or credit card statement, you receive a notice of something affecting your credit, or you receive a bill for something you did not purchase.
If you fall victim to identity theft, here are some actions you should take:
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov site. The FTC provides this service to help you develop a detailed plan of action for addressing issues, such as recovering funds and repairing your credit.
- If any piece of information was exposed that could be used to open financial accounts (e.g., your Social Security Number, date of birth, place of birth, mother's maiden name, bank account numbers, credit card numbers), contact any of the three major credit bureaus and ask them to lock your credit record and to sign you up for their credit monitoring service, a fee-based service that will automatically notify you whenever your credit record is accessed. When you lock your credit record, no other organization can check your credit without your permission. Here are the websites for the three major credit bureaus:
- Report the incident to all the financial institutions with which you do business.
- Reset your passwords. Often, an exposure of financial information involves the exposure of one or more passwords.
- If you know the site that compromised your information, and that site holds information that can be used to compromise other sites, contact the customer service center of each potentially affected institution.
- The web sites of national agencies that deal with Internet fraud provide helpful information about dealing with identity theft issues: