How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses another person's personal information such as name, Social Security number, driver's license number, credit card number or other identifying information to take on that person's identity in order to commit fraud or other crimes.
Lower your Risk
The following tips can help lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft:
Monitor your financial accounts carefully, and if you see any unauthorized activity, promptly contact your financial institution. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
Place a “Fraud Alert" or a "Credit Freeze” on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; legally one agency must report to the other agencies, so one call is enough. If you are the victim of identity theft or have reported the theft of your personal identifying information to a law enforcement agency, there is no fee to you.
Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. A fraud alert is a signal placed in your credit report to warn potential creditors that they must use what the law calls “reasonable policies and procedures” to verify your identity before they issue credit in your name.
Oregon law allows Oregon residents to protect themselves from the possibility of identity theft by placing a credit freeze on their credit files. By placing a freeze, you can prevent anyone who fraudulently acquires your personal identifying information from using that information to open new accounts or borrow money in your name. For detailed procedures, go to the Oregon Dept. of Consumer and Business Services at http://www.dfcs.oregon.gov/id_theft.html and click on “Security Freeze.”
If you find that you are a victim of identity theft, report it immediately to law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.
- Online: ftc.gov/idtheft
- 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
- By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580
The Social Security Administration can provide information on how to report the fraudulent use of your number and how to correct your earnings record. We encourage you to contact the Fraud Hotline immediately once you suspect identity theft.
- Social Security Administration SSA Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271
- The website also provides tips on using and securing your Social Security number. Visit the SSA website for advice on keeping your number safe.
What Else Can You Do?
- Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card or other cards that show your SSN. Read, "Your Social Security Number: Controlling the Key to Identity Theft" (http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html)
- Use caution when giving out your personal information. Scam artists "phish" for victims by pretending to be banks, stores or government agencies. They do this over the phone, in e-mails and in postal mail.
- Treat your trash as cash. Assume it is valuable to someone. Shred or destroy papers containing your personal information including credit card offers and “convenience checks” that you don’t use.
- Protect your postal mail. Retrieve mail promptly. Discontinue delivery while out of town.
- Check your bills and bank statements. Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don’t arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
- Check your credit reports. Review your credit report at least once a year. Check for changed addresses and fraudulent charges.
- Stop pre-approved credit offers. Pre-approved credit card offers are a target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).
- Ask questions. Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, don’t give your personal information.
- Protect your computer. Protect personal information on your computer by following good security practices.
- Change your passwords on your current accounts. Use strong, non-easily guessed passphrases.
- Use firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software that you update regularly.
- Download software only from sites you know and trust and only after reading all the terms and conditions.
- Don’t click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.