Identity theft is a serious crime. If your identity is stolen and used by identity thieves, recovering your good name and good credit record could take years and result in significant financial loss. As with any crime, you cannot completely control whether you will become a victim, but you can minimize your risk by managing your personal information cautiously and with greater awareness of potentially risky situations.
Here are some simple precautions that can help protect you from identity thieves:
- Don’t give your Social Security Number or credit card numbers out over the telephone or by email unless you know the caller personally or are confident that the organization you are dealing with is legitimate. Identity thieves can be skilled liars and may pose as bank representatives, Internet service providers, and government agents.
- Cancel unused credit cards.
- Limit the number of credit cards and forms of identification you carry.
- Place orders only with secure websites. (Make sure the web address starts with "https" or look for a small padlock icon in the corner of the page.)
- Destroy copies of credit card receipts, financial statements, and anything that has identifying information before discarding them. Use a shredder, available from office supply and other stores.
- Check statements from financial institutions - verify account information.
- Never give your Personal Identification Numbers (PIN numbers) to anyone.
- Report unexplained interruptions in mail service to your local post office.
- Order a copy of your credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus.
- If you use Internet banking, make sure you are using the real websites from your bank and credit card companies. Use only the links shown on your bills and statements, not ones provided on unsolicited emails.
- Check all purchases and debits made on your accounts and verify them against receipts.
Credit reports can be ordered from the following agencies:
After You’re a Victim
If you are a victim of identity theft:
- File a police report as soon as possible and obtain the report number for future reference.
- Report the identity theft to the three credit bureaus.
- Report fraudulent use of your Social Security Number to the Social Security Administration.
- Contact your financial institutions. Consider obtaining new account numbers and PIN Numbers and having a code word placed on your accounts.
More information about identity theft can be obtained by contacting the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4338. Packets for reporting identity theft can be obtained from the Winnetka Police Department.