According to the U.S. Department of Justice, An estimated 11.7 million persons, representing 5% of all persons age 16 or older in the United States, experienced at least one type of identity theft in a 2-year period.
Although the total financial cost of identity theft was nearly $17.3 billion over a 2-year period, less than a quarter (23%) of identity theft victims suffered an out-of-pocket financial loss from the victimization. About 42% of victims spent 1 day or less working to resolve the financial and credit problems associated with the identity theft; however, 3% continued to experience problems related to the theft more than 6 months after discovering it.
Identity theft is the unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing credit card or another type of existing account, the unauthorized use of personal information to open a new account or for another fraudulent purpose, or a combination of these.
If you’ve lost personal information or identification, or if it has been stolen from you, taking certain steps quickly can minimize the potential for identity theft.
Financial accounts: Close accounts, like credit cards and bank accounts, immediately. When you open new accounts, place passwords on them. Avoid using your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
Social Security number: Call the toll-free fraud number of any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. An alert can help stop someone from opening new credit accounts in your name. See consumer reporting company contact information. Please call TransUnion Fraud Alert Assistance at (800) 680-7289.
Driver’s license/other government issued identification: Contact the agency that issued the license or other identification document. Follow its procedures to cancel the document and to get a replacement. Ask the agency to flag your file so that no one else can get a license or any other identification document from them in your name.
Once you have taken these precautions, watch for signs that your information is being misused.
If your information has been misused, file a report about the theft with the police, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission as well.
How can I minimize my risk?
When it comes to identity theft, you can’t entirely control whether you will become a victim. But there are certain steps you can take to minimize your risk.
- Order a copy of your credit report. An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports, at your request, once every 12 months. To order your free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free 877-322-8228.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or are sure you know who you’re dealing with. Identity thieves are clever, and have posed as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people to reveal their Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information.
- Treat your mail and trash carefully. To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you’re discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
- Don’t carry your Social Security number card; leave it in a secure place. Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary, and ask to use other types of identifiers. Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you’ll actually need when you go out.