What is ID Theft?
How Thieves Steal and Use Your ID
Tools for Victims
Avoid Identity Theft Video
(WIndows Media Player)
WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.
The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make—or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.
Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record. Some consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. In rare cases, they may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
HOW DO THIEVES STEAL AN IDENTITY AND WHAT DO THEY DO WITH THE STOLEN IDENTITY?
Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
- Dumpster Diving - They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming - They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing - They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address - They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing - They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
- Pretexting - They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
Once they have your personal information, identity thieves use it in a variety of ways.
Credit card fraud:
• They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the cards and don't pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on your credit report.
• They may change the billing address on your credit card so that you no longer receive bills, and then run up charges on your account. Because your bills are now sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there's a problem.
Phone or utilities fraud:
• They may open a new phone or wireless account in your name, or run up charges on your existing account.
• They may use your name to get utility services like electricity, heating, or cable TV.
• They may create counterfeit checks using your name or account number.
• They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.
• They may clone your ATM or debit card and make electronic withdrawals your name, draining your accounts.
• They may take out a loan in your name.
Government documents fraud:
• They may get a driver's license or official ID card issued in your name but with their picture.
• They may use your name and Social Security number to get government benefits.
• They may file a fraudulent tax return using your information.
• They may get a job using your Social Security number.
• They may rent a house or get medical services using your name.
• They may give your personal information to police during an arrest. If they don't show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.
Tips from the Federal Trade Commission
Office of Privacy Protection’s “Top 10 Tips for Identity Theft Protection”
TOOLS FOR VICTIMS OF IDENTITY THEFT
This information is provided to assist individuals who are victims or suspect they may be victims of identity theft. It is intended as a general guide, not as legal advice.
Steps to respond to and recover from identity theft as soon as you suspect it.
Victims of identity theft must act quickly to minimize the damage. It is very important to keep good notes of all conversations and records of all correspondence with your financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, including a log of the names, dates and phone number of persons you contacted. You also should confirm the information in writing. Sending your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, will provide you with a record of your correspondence.
Report ID Theft to the Major Credit Unions
Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and report that your identity has been stolen. Ask that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file.
• Trans Union - P.O. Box 1000 Chester, PA 19016-1000 Phone: (800) 680-7289
• Experian (formerly TRW) P.O. Box 9532 Allen, TX 75013 Phone: 888-EXPERIAN (888.397.3742)
• Equifax - P.O. Box 105069 Atlanta, GA 30348 Phone: (800) 525-6285
File a Police Report With Local Police or Police Where Identity Theft Occurred
Get a copy of the police report and retain for your records. Credit card companies and financial institutions may require you to show a copy of this report to verify the crime. Keep the phone number of your investigator and provide it to creditors and others who require verification of your case.
Contact All Creditors
For any accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened, contact the billing inquiries and security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions. Close these accounts. Use passwords - not your mother's maiden name - on any new accounts opened. Confirm your contact in writing. Ask that old accounts be processed as "account closed at consumer's request." Having a "card lost or stolen" reference because when this statement is reported to credit bureaus, it can be interpreted as blaming you for the loss. Carefully monitor your mail and credit card bills and report immediately any new fraudulent activity to credit grantors.
Obtain Free Copy of Your Credit Report, Monitor Regularly (Free Annual Credit Report)
As a victim of identity theft, you may obtain a free copy of your credit report and should monitor activity every few months. Ask the credit bureaus for names and phone numbers of credit grantors with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened. Ask the credit bureaus to remove inquiries that have been generated due to the fraudulent access. Other consumers seeking a copy of their credit report may be charged a fee.
• Trans Union - (800) 888-4213
• Experian (formerly TRW) 888-EXPERIAN (888.397.3742)
• Equifax - (800) 685-1111
Under state law (California Civil Code 1785.16(k)), a consumer submitting a valid police report can have the credit reporting agency block the reporting of any information that the consumer alleges appears on the credit report as a result of identity theft. You also may want to ask the credit bureaus to notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months in order to alert them to the disputed and erroneous information.
Contest Bills That Result From Identity Theft
Consumer and privacy advocates suggest not paying any portion of a bill which is a result of identity theft and not filing for bankruptcy. This will involve disputing credit card charges with the card company by writing to the address for "billing error" disputes - not the bill payment address. You should follow the directions given by the credit card company for disputing charges. This information must be provided by the company. Your credit rating should not be permanently affected, and no legal action should be taken against you as a result of identity theft. If any merchant, financial institution or collection agency suggests otherwise, simply restate your willingness to cooperate, but don't allow yourself to be coerced into paying fraudulent bills. Report such attempts to government regulators immediately.
Access Information if Account Opened Fraudulently in Your Name
If a loan, credit or utility service account has been opened fraudulently in your name, you now can obtain a copy of the application used and a record of transactions or charges associated with that account. The information you learn may be useful in determining what personally identifying information was stolen, help clear your good name and credit, and even lead to the identity of the thief.
Here is a checklist for accessing account info under California Penal Code section 530.8:
• File a Police Report that you believe you are a victim of identity theft. Keep a copy of the police report.
• Fill out the request forms provided by the law enforcement agency or use the Fraudulent Account Information Request Form
• Fill out the Identity Theft Affidavit provided below
• Send completed package (Info Request/ID Theft Affidavit/Police Report) to each creditor where the thief opened an account using your stolen identity.
• Provide account information you receive to the police officer investigating your ID theft case.
RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS OF IDENTITY THEFT
Identity Theft Affidavit (English)
Identity Theft Affidavit (Spanish)
My Personal Information May Have Been Compromised
Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
Organizing Your Identity Theft Case
Guide to Requesting Information on Fraudulent Accounts (pdf)
Overcoming the Emotional Impact of Identity Theft
California Office of Privacy Protection
Attorney General’s Tips for Victims of Identity Theft