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Preventing Identity Theft | How to Protect Yourself | Steps to Take if Your Identity is Compromised | Other Resources

Have you ever lost your cell phone or wallet? Remember the panic that ensues, and the relief when you find them? What if those same things are stolen and you can't track them down -- or worse, your identity and financial reputation is stolen?

There are steps you can take to protect your property, your identity and your files. Problems caused by identity or mobile device theft, unsafe Web surfing, and unprotected files can be minimized if not avoided entirely.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when a criminal uses another person's information to take on that person's identity. Identity theft is much more than misuse of a Social Security number -- it can also include credit card, bank account and mail fraud.

How can I prevent Identity Theft?

Know about the threats that you face online. Learn about:

I think I've been targeted. What do I do? 

If you suspect that you've been a victim of Identity Theft, see a list of steps to take if your data is compromised or stolen.

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

The following tips can help lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

tip Protect your Social Security number.

Don’t carry your Social Security card or other cards that show your SSN. See this page about identity theft and Social Security numbers.

tip Use caution when giving out your personal information.

Scam artists "phish" for victims by pretending to be banks, stores or government agencies. They contact potential victims via phone, online, in e-mails and/or by postal mail.

tip Treat your trash carefully.

Shred or destroy papers containing your personal information, including credit card offers and unused “convenience checks."

tip Protect your postal mail.

Retrieve mail promptly. Put your mail delivery on hold when you go out of town for a prolonged period of time (more than a day or two).

tip 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.

tip Check your credit reports.

Review your credit report at least once a year. Check for changed addresses and fraudulent charges.

tip 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).

tip 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.

tip Protect your computer.
  Protect personal information on your computer by following good security practices:
tip Use caution on the Web.
  When shopping online, check out a Web site before entering your credit card number or other personal information. Read the privacy policy and take opportunities to opt out of information sharing. Only enter personal information on secure Web pages that encrypt your data in transit. You can often tell if a page is secure if "https" is in URL or if there is a padlock icon on the browser window.


Steps to Take if Your Data is Compromised or Stolen

  • Step 1: Contact a Major Credit Bureau Agency to Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports 

    Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report.

    Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 800-525-6285
    Fraud Division
    P.O. Box 740250
    Atlanta, GA 30374
    800-685-1111 / 888-766-0008

    Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 888-397-3742
    Credit Fraud Center
    P.O. Box 1017
    Allen, TX 75013
    888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)

    Trans Union
    Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 800-680-7289
    Fraud Victim Assistance Department
    P.O. Box 6790
    Fullerton, CA 92634
    Phone: 800-916-8800 / 800-680-7289

    When contacting the Credit Reporting Agency:

    1. Instruct them to flag your file with a fraud alert. There are two types of fraud alerts: an initial alert and an extended alert. An initial alert is used primarily if you suspect you have been or are about to be a victim of identity theft. An extended alert is more appropriate if you know you have been a victim of identity theft. Detailed information on the two fraud alert types are available from the Federal Trade Commission site.
    2. Ask them for copies of your credit report(s). (Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of suspected fraud.) Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts.

      NOTE: In order to ensure that you are issued free credit reports, we strongly encourage you to contact the agency's DIRECT LINE (listed above) for reporting fraud. We do not recommend that you order your credit report online.

    Additional Measures Regarding Your Credit Reports:

    1. Be diligent in following up on your accounts. In the months following an incident, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
    2. If you find that any accounts have been tampered with or opened fraudulently, close them immediately. To ensure that you do not become responsible for any debts or charges, use the ID Theft Affidavit Form developed by the Federal Trade Commission to help make your case with creditors.

    NOTE: If you have not reviewed your credit report before, you may see some inaccurate information or fraudulent activity that existed prior to any recent, suspected identity fraud.

  • Step 2: Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

    Call and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each company with which you are closing an account. Follow up in writing, and include copies (NOT originals) of supporting documents. It's important to notify credit card companies and banks in writing. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep a file of your correspondence and enclosures.

    If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or on fraudulently opened accounts, ask the company for the forms to dispute those transactions:

    • For charges and debits on existing accounts, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms. If the company doesn't have special forms, use the sample letter to dispute the fraudulent charges or debits. In either case, write to the company at the address given for "billing inquiries," NOT the address for sending your payments.
    • For new unauthorized accounts, ask if the company accepts the ID Theft Affidavit (PDF, 56 KB). If not, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms. If the company already has reported these accounts or debts on your credit report, dispute this fraudulent information. See Correcting Fraudulent Information in Credit Reports to learn how.
  • Step 3: File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

    It is important to report identity theft to your local police as soon as you become aware of being a victim. Get a copy of the police report. You may need them when notifying creditors. If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a "Miscellaneous Incidents" report, or try another jurisdiction, like your state police. You also can check with your state Attorney General's office to find out if state law requires the police to take reports for identity theft. Check the Blue Pages of your telephone directory for the phone number or check for a list of state Attorneys General.

  • Step 4: Contact the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline.

    Contact the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline.If you are the victim of a stolen Social Security number, the SSA 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. The website also provides tips on using and securing your Social Security number. Visit the SSA website for advice on keeping your number safe.
    Social Security Administration
    SSA Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271
  • Step 5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

    By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer victims' complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.

    You can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form; or call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.

    Be sure to call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.


Maryland Attorney General's Office -- "Identity Theft: What to Do if It Happens to You"

Federal Trade Commission Links

Fraud.Org's Internet Fraud Site

Social Security Administration Identity Theft Page


Information on this page was collected primarily from the Federal Trade Commission's web site, your National Resource about Identity Theft.

Last Published 7/13/16