Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Identity theft can occur in a moment and impact you for a lifetime. Preparation is the best protection and knowing who to contact might help you recover your money and minimize the damage.
Portions of the original article were taken from material from the National Center for Victims of Crime.
How does the law define identity theft?
Under Texas Penal Code 32.51, identity theft is committed when a person intends to hurt or trick another person by getting, sharing, or using their personal identifiable information without their permission.
What is personal identifying information?
Personal identifiable information (PII) is data or details that connect to only you as an individual. Examples include:
- Social security number
- Telephone number
- Account number (bank, pension, medical records)
- PIN number (ATM, debit, and credit cards).
How can I keep from having my identity stolen?
- Memorize your social security number (SSN) and only share the number as needed.
- Beware when people unexpectedly ask you for your personal identifiable information (PII).
- Make sure that no one is staring at you when you use a computer or ATM.
- Keep track of your mail by checking it daily or putting it on hold when you’ll be away.
- Reach out to your company if bills come late.
- Compare your receipts to your account statements.
- Shred paperwork with personal information.
- Decide on a safe place to keep important documents.
- Protect your computer with firewalls and virus-detection software.
- Use a strong password with a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
- Change your password every 30 to 60 days.
- Download reports from all three credit bureaus for free and check for new activity. Receive all three reports at once, or one every four months.
How do identity thieves get our information?
- Credit Card Skimming. A regular credit card scanner at a gas station or ATM has a device that steals your card number and PIN.
- Dumpster Diving. Thieves go through your trash.
- Hacking. They steal information from computers and company databases.
- Direct use. Once they steal your purse or wallet, they have your ID, checks, and debit and credit cards.
- Phishing. They get information by pretending to represent an actual organization.
What groups are common targets of identity theft?
- Children. They have no credit history and parents do not normally check a child’s credit report.
- Young adults ages 18 to 24. New credit users are not as protective of their information as more experienced users.
- Elderly. They have a higher net worth and may not be able to detect individuals with the wrong intentions.
- High-income earners. People earning over $75,000 shop more, creating financial and personal data for identity thieves to find.
- Social media sharers. Clues like birthdays, names of immediate family members, and pets are topics of everyday posts.
- People with weak passwords. The easiest passwords have six or fewer lowercase letters and include information like the name of a pet or child. Create a password with eight or more characters that includes letters, numbers, and special symbols.
Someone stole my identity. Now what?
Stay calm and keep records of dates, times, and expenses during this process.
- File a police report.
- Fill out a sworn statement of identity theft form.
- Report your driver’s license stolen.
- Notify the credit bureaus.
- Alert your banks.
- Call Shared Check Authorization Network (SCAN) at 800-262-7771 to see if your name is associated with any bad checks.
- Update the Social Security Administration.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to file a report, print a checklist, and view sample letters.
- Tell the U.S. Passport Agency.
Is there a difference between a fraud alert and a security freeze on your credit report?
Yes. A fraud alert makes a business have to verify your identity before opening new credit for you. It stays active for one year, and you can renew it for up to seven years.
A security freeze asks the credit bureau not to release any information that will create new lines of credit without your permission. The security freeze can be placed on the account within 24 hours, and it only takes about an hour to have it lifted.
How does Federal Trade Commission (FTC) help identity theft victims?
The FTC offers templates and resources to individuals in the process of reporting identity theft. They also gather information from the reports into a national database so that the FBI can investigate trends.
What's the difference between police and FTC reports when reporting identity theft?
- The police can pursue criminal penalties, including jail time for what happened to you.
- The FTC monitors threats to consumers. It is a civil law organization that can only seek civil penalties against businesses with illegal practices. So, they won’t put anyone in jail, but they may try to get some of your money back.
- The FTC advises victims of identity theft to report to them first and then mention your FTC report when you file the police report.
What if we can’t figure out who stole my identity?
Liability for damages might fall on organizations, institutions, and even credit reporting agencies. Contact the National Crime Victim Bar Association for a referral to an attorney offering their initial consultations for little or no cost. With their help, you may recover the money you lost.
What resources are helpful if my identity is stolen?
- Better Business Bureau
- National Center for Victims of Crime
- National Crime Victim Bar Association
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Center for Identity Management and Information Protection (CIMIP) at Utica University
- Identity Theft Resource Center
- Identity Theft (at USA.gov)
What Texas-specific resources are there if my identity is stolen?
Texas DPS on Identity Theft
The only true defense against identity theft is prevention. This guide from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) give you details about the prevention methods. These methods include the following steps.
- Notify the police or Sheriff's office
- Contact any driver license office
- Provide information about the identity theft for the Sheriff's "Stolen Identity File"
- Notify creditors and merchants
- Notify your banks
- Contact the Social Security Administration
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Notify the U.S. Passport Agency
Reporting the Theft
You MUST report the theft to one of the three major credit reporting agencies:
- Equifax: To request a credit report: (800) 685-1111. To report fraud: (800) 525-6285 or write to P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374 or the website: www.equifax.com.
- Experian: To request a credit report or report fraud: (888) 397-3742 or write to P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013 or website: www.experian.com
- Trans Union: To request a credit report: (800) 888-4213. To report fraud: (800) 680-7289; write to P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634; www.transunion.com
This DPS guide tells you more about the credit reporting agencies
The Importance of Major Check Verification Companies
If you have had a check(s) stolen or bank account opened fraudulently, report it to the check verification companies listed below. Place a stop payment order on any invalid (or unauthorized) checks. Cancel your checking and savings account and obtain new accounts.
Call SCAN (800-262-7771) to find out if the identity theft has been passing bad checks in your name.
This DPS guide gives you more information about major check verification companies.
Credit ReportingAbout credit reports and how to correct them.
Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM, and Debit CardsThis article explains what to do when your credit, ATM, or debit cards are lost or stolen.