The Facts About Identity Theft
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone illegally obtains your personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account number or other identification and uses it to open new accounts or initiate transactions in your name. Examples of fraudulent activities conducted by criminals include: opening new credit cards, opening new bank accounts, forging or counterfeiting checks, and applying for new loans and even mortgages in your name. Such activity can cause financial loss and damage to your credit, which can lead to a lengthy resolution process.
Criminals can obtain personal information via online and offline methods. Stealing wallets and purses, intercepting or rerouting your email, and rummaging through your garbage are some of the common tactics that thieves may use to obtain personal information.
Where to look for signs of identity theft
To spot signs of identity theft early, be on the lookout for:
- Missing mail or a significant drop in the amount of mail you receive
- Unusual transactions on your account statements and credit reports
- Unexpected declines for loan or mortgage applications, despite your good credit
- Calls from a collection agency that you don't recognize
- New credit cards in the mail for which you haven't applied
How your identity can be stolen
Popular schemes for stealing your identity include:
- Searching your trash for credit card offers, bills, bank statements, etc.
- Filing "change of address" forms to receive your mail
- Stealing your wallet or purse to obtain account numbers, address, date of birth, etc.
- Accessing your public or private files and databases for your personal and business information
- Using fake e-mails or websites to obtain personal information
How to protect yourself from identity theft
Five ways to sidestep identity theft:
- Avoid putting personal information, such as a drivers license number, on checks
- Collect your mail in a timely manner
- Place outgoing mail in U.S. Postal Service box to reduce mail theft
- Don't provide personal information in response to unsolicited calls or e-mails
- Shred account statements and other documents with sensitive information
Are you a victim of identity theft?
Steps to take if you are a victim of identity theft:
- Alert First United and the other financial institutions or creditors
- Contact the major credit bureaus' fraud department: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
- Close compromised or fraudulently opened accounts
- Report theft to law enforcement agencies
- Call the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 800.269.0271
- Notify the Federal Trade Commission at 877.ID.THEFT (877.438.4338)
Learn more about identity theft protection
The best way to avoid identity theft and online fraud is to use caution when providing personal and account information, and stay informed about scams.