The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 9 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year. For more information on Identity Theft and how it happens, visit the FTC's website at www.ftc.gov One step you can take in order to quickly make contact with your creditors is to make photocopies of the front and back of your cards and keep this information in a safe place. Should your cards be stolen, you will have immediate access to the account number and the phone numbers for each creditor.
In the event your identity or personal information is stolen, there are several steps you need to take. First you should contact the police and file a report. You should also contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Once this is in place, any attempt to open a line of credit in your name will result in the credit reporting agency calling you to confirm the attempt is legitimate. You should also close any financial accounts you have which may have been compromised.
Credit Reporting Agencies
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
The following websites contain information you may find useful before and after you become a victim of identity theft.
Identity Theft Resource Center
Identity Theft topics from about.com
Identity Theft Resources from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
1. Do not put mail, especially bill statements and payments, in unattended outdoor boxes. Use the Post Office.
2. Shred anything with personal information or cut into very small pieces with scissors.
3. Cancel credit cards you have not used in 6 months. Open credit accounts are targets!
4. Never write down passwords or PIN numbers! Memorize and never carry them with you.
5. Lock up personal information, even in your home.
6. Destroy the hard drive when disposing of old computers. Simple reformats are not enough!
7. Protect your social security number and only give it out when absolutely necessary.
8. Carefully watch what merchants do with your credit card and make sure you get it back.