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Preventing Identity Theft

Armed with little more than the name, address, birth date, and Social Security number of a completely unknowing person, identity thieves are illegally obtaining credit cards and access to checking accounts. Others use their newfound identities to apply for employment, an auto loan, or a driver's license or even to commit a serious crime.

For victims of identity theft, the nightmare might begin when someone steals a wallet or check. Or when someone pilfers financial or other records with identifying information from a trash can. Or it might occur when the perpetrator legally obtains credit bureau records while working for a credit grantor (a financial institution, auto dealer, insurance company).

What do you have to lose?

  • Access to credit. A bad credit rating can virtually prohibit you from getting a credit card or any type of loan.
  • Use of your checking account funds. You're likely to show up as a bad risk on retailer's check verification systems.
  • Employment opportunities. A damaged credit report or driving record could take you out of the job market.
  • Work time. With passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, victims finally have a federal law that gives them the right to file police reports and recoup damages. But it takes time to be persistent and assertive in clearing their names.
  • Money. Costs can mount when you retain the services of legal counsel.

What steps can you take to help prevent identity theft or data breach?

  • Examine all your financial statements. Promptly reconcile your monthly share draft account statement. Save check stubs and credit, debit, and ATM receipts. Report discrepancies between your records and monthly statements to the appropriate company. Check credit bureau reports at least once a year.
  • Limit your paper trail. Store receipts and share draft carbons in a safe place. Or rip them up, especially areas where account numbers are visible. Destroy blank checks from closed-out accounts and expired or unused credit cards. And tear up any credit card receipt carbons.
  • Beware of phone scams. Never give your PIN or any other personal financial information to an unknown caller.
  • Check your mail. If you haven't received mail for a few days, you may be the victim of mail diversion fraud. This scam involves a crook forging an individual's signature on a change-of-address form to divert your mail and obtain financial information. If you suspect your address has been changed without your permission, contact the post office.
  • Track financial statements. Find out when financial statements and plastic cards are due to arrive. If they're late, contact your credit union or appropriate issuer.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends taking the following steps to help protect yourself after identity theft or data breach

  • Consider checking your credit reports. You can check your credit report by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don't recognize could indicate identity theft.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open an account in your name.
  • Consider monitoring your existing credit card and bank accounts for charges you don't recognize.
  • Consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you.
  • Consider correcting possible errors in your credit report by disputing errors with the nationwide credit reporting companies.

Visit IdentityTheft.gov to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach. You can also download the FTC's complete guide Taking Charge: What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen (PDF), which includes step-by-step processes, sample letters and forms, and other valuable contact information.