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Identity theft can happen to anyone, and it’s no fun when it does happen. It can destroy your credit and cost you time and money.
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Identity Theft Terms to KnowThieves can steal your identity using a number of different techniques, including the following:
- Stealing - Simple basic stealing of physical items such as wallets, purses, bank and credit card statements, other mail, and anything else that has personal information on it. The workplace is not immune from these thieves who also steal personnel records and personal information from co-workers.
- Phishing - Thieves send spam messages or use other techniques to get you to reveal other personal information.
- Skimming - When you use your credit card thieves use a special storage device to steal your information.
- Dumpster Diving - Thieves dig through trash looking for personal information. You should use a paper shredder to destroy all trash with personal information.
- Change Your Address – Thieves can reroute your mail to a different address.
How to reduce your risk of getting your identity stolen
- Shred any and all paperwork with personal information before you discard them, especially financial documents and credit card offers.
- Do not give out personal information through any medium; especially phone, mail, or online, unless you know the organization. When typing personal information on a website, make sure it is secure (https: versus an http: address).
- Never click on links sent in emails unless you know the sender. Use anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date to protect your computer. Visit OnGuardOnline for more information.
- Make sure your passwords are not obvious enough that someone else could guess them. (i.e. never use “password” or “1234”)
- Keep your personal information secure, especially if someone else has access to your house or apartment.
- Review your credit reports regularly. Credit reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill-paying history. The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion —to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it. Go to Annual Credit Report or call 1-877-322-8228 to order your free credit reports each year. You can also write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P. O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
- Carefully review your financial statements and look for signs of identity theft. Review and reconcile all of your financial statements including checking accounts and credit card statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make.
- If you lose your credit card, checkbook, or ATM/ debit card, report it immediately. The card issuer will be able to help you if you act promptly. They may suggest that you cancel that card, get a new card, and change your password. You may want to get a new account as well. You can be held liable for the charges if you do not report the fraud in a reasonable amount of time.
Signs that you may be a victim of identity theft
- Mail, including bills and statements, do not arrive as expected.
- You receive a credit card in the mail for which you’ve never applied.
- You apply for a loan and are denied because of a low credit score even if you’ve always paid on time and have no other reason for poor credit.
- A debt collector calls to demand payment on an overdue account that you know nothing about.
What to do if identity theft happens to you
Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports. Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Review them carefully for any inaccurate information, including inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open and debts that you can’t explain. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert. A call to one company is sufficient:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
- Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
- Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your permission. Collect supporting documentation for your claims.
- Use the ID Theft Affidavit at Federal Trade Commission to support your verbal and written statements.
- Demand verification that the account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
- Keep copies of documents and records of all activities related to the theft.
- Online: Federal Trade Commission
- By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
- By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580
How to keep your information secure on the web
- Do not share your FSA ID with anyone.
- In general, websites start with the letters "http"-- this can be found on the web browser's address bar. Websites with that designation do not guarantee that your information is protected. However, if there is an "s" (which means secure) after "http", ("https") then your information is secure.
- Additionally, there should be a picture of a lock either on the address bar or at the bottom of the browser. This signifies that the page is secure. If there is a lock, this means the website is secure (encrypted).
Identity Theft & Federally-Insured Student LoansIf someone steals your identity to take out a student loan, it can be very difficult to discharge that loan. Regulations are very strict regarding the discharge of loans, so there are rules regarding identity theft that are outlined below under a "False Certification" discharge:
Eligibility for Discharge: Loans can be discharged if you do all of the following:
- Certifies that you did not sign the promissory note, or that any other means of identification used to obtain the loan were used without your authorization.
- Certifies that you did not knowingly receive or benefit from the proceeds of the loan that had been made without your authorization.
- Provide a copy of a local, state, or federal court verdict or judgment that conclusively determines that you are a victim of a crime of identity theft by a perpetrator named in the verdict or judgment.
- There may be other documentation requested or required.