Never reveal personal information about yourself to anyone over the phone, through the mail, or on the internet unless you are confident you are purchasing goods or services from a legitimate, licensed, and bonded business. Phone scammers, especially, do all kinds of things to trick you into thinking they know you or members of your family. If they are pressuring you for personal information or pushing you to wire money, simply hang up. Personal information includes your address, date of birth, social security number, mother's maiden name, bank account number, credit card number, loan number, security questions, or pin numbers.
Nationwide, an estimated 700,000 people become victims of identity theft each year. An average victim spends $808 to clear up discrepancies related to identity theft, and spends approximately 185 hours over two years to straighten their credit and financial matters. If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, please read the following recommendations:
- Report the Crime to Law Enforcement Immediately - To report the theft or abuse of your financial information or property you can call 911, your local law enforcement agency, or walk in and ask to file a report at your local Police Department. The police will take a report and give you a case number to reference with creditors, financial institutions, or to use if further future instances occur. You will often times be required to fill out loss affidavits regarding the fraud with your bank or creditors. This is important to identify you as the victim of the loss or theft and the financial entity as the victim of the forgery or fraud.
- Notify Your Bank, Financial Institutions, and Creditors - The sooner you notify your bank and creditors of your lost or stolen information the sooner measures can be put in place to "flag" your account. Having your account immediately "flagged" will help to catch the perpetrators and protect you from being liable for any fraudulent charges. It is best to close the jeopardized account and open a new account disallowing criminals access to your new information. Always keep your account numbers with account contact information in one location easily accessible by you. If fraudulent charges appear, call Consumer Credit Counseling Services, at 800-388-2227, to help clear your credit report.
- Credit Reporting Agencies - If you are the victim of a loss or theft, call the fraud units of the three major credit report agencies, as set forth below, to report and request that your accounts be "flagged." It is also recommended that you request a copy of your credit report every six months or annually to check for fraudulent credit reports.
- Change Your Passwords - To protect all your accounts and personal information, always change your password on a regular basis. If a victim of a crime, change all passwords immediately.
- Stolen Mail - Should you find that your mail has been stolen immediately report to your local post office and your local law enforcement agency. Locking mailboxes are a wise investment and usually available at your local hardware store.
- Guard Your Garbage - It is recommended that you shred any documents containing your personal or financial information. Criminals often peruse citizens' garbage cans for any useful data they can find and steal. Be on the alert and report if your garbage appears to have been rummaged through.
- Social Security Theft or Fraud - If you are aware of theft or fraud of your Social Security funds or fraudulent use of a Social Security Number, please contact the Social Security Administration's Fraud Hotline, at 800-269-0271.