What exactly is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to take over your credit accounts, open new ones, take out a loan, rent an apartment, access bank accounts, or commit many other crimes using your identity.

When it strikes, the effects can be devastating. What's more, because it frequently involves no physical theft, identity theft may not be noticed by its victims until significant damage has been done - often, several months and thousands of dollars later.

How do thieves do it?

First, they steal your personal information by...

  • Going through your mail or trash, looking for bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and tax information.
  • Gaining access to your data that was lost or stolen from a company you do business with.
  • Stealing personal information from your wallet or purse such as identification, credit, or bank cards.
  • Masquerading as a trusted company web site to trick you into giving them your personal information - also known as phishing.
  • Completing change-of-address forms to redirect your mail.
  • Installing viruses or trojan horses to gain access to data stored on your computer.
  • Obtaining your credit report by posing as a landlord or someone else who has a lawful right to the information.
  • Acquiring personal information you share on sites that lack Internet Security.
  • Buying personal information about you from an inside source - for example, a store employee that gets your information from a credit application or by "skimming" your credit card information when you make a purchase.
  • Getting your personnel records at work.

Then they use your personal information by...

  • Opening new credit card accounts using your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When they use the credit cards and don't pay the bills, the delinquency is reported on your credit report.
  • Establishing phone or cellular service in your name.
  • Opening a bank account in your name and writing bad checks on the account.
  • Counterfeiting checks or debit cards, and draining your bank account.
  • Buying cars by taking out auto loans in your name.
  • Calling your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, changing the address on the account. Bills get sent to the new address, so you don't realize there's a problem until you check your credit report.
  • Filing for bankruptcy using your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred under your name.

Monitor Your Credit Report Closely

Unless you check your credit report frequently, there's often no way to tell if identity thieves have used your personal information to obtain credit accounts or other services in your name.

Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to receive a free credit report each year.

No Credit Card Is Necessary

Credit card fraud is just one type of identity theft. While a thief may use your information to apply for a new credit card, some types of identity theft don't involve credit cards at all. Someone with a bad credit rating may use your personal information to get a car loan, acquire phone, cellular service, or another utility service, or open a bank account in your name.

Such cases of identity fraud can be seriously damaging, since you may not realize anything is wrong until you notice unfamiliar charges on your monthly bills or statements.

How To Correct or Dispute Your Credit Report

  • You must notify the bureaus in writing. The bureaus then have 30 days to investigate the issue from the date they receive your notice. If the bureaus determine that the disputed item is accurately reported, you then have the right to add a brief statement to your file explaining your side of the dispute.
  • You must supply your full name, social security number, date of birth, present and previous addresses, current and previous employment in your letter.
  • You must explain what you are disputing with any pertinent information you may have.

How to Contact the Major Credit Bureaus

PO Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
(800) 685-1111

701 Experian Parkway
PO Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013
(800) 682-7654

PO Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
(800) 916-8800

Identity Theft information has been provided by Equifax. For more information, please go to Equifax Identity Theft Information