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Identity Theft and How to Prevent It

In a nutshell, identity theft happens any time someone uses key markers of another person’s identity with the intent to commit fraud. Examples include using someone’s name, date of birth, Social Security Number, mother’s maiden name and so on to impersonate another individual and/or access bank accounts, obtain loans, make purchases, rent an apartment and so on.

Identify theft is the fastest-growing crime in the United States and can happen to anyone, regardless of whether or not you use the Internet. In fact, experts say that your mailbox and garbage are the easiest ways for criminals to access personal information.

Proper precaution is the best protection

Even though identity theft is a felony, police cannot undo damage that’s been done to your credit report. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant. The following tips can help you avoid becoming the victim of identity theft:


  • Review credit card statements, bank statements and your credit report regularly and carefully. These are typically the first places you’ll notice signs of identity theft. Make sure all information is accurate — transactions, purchases, deposits, withdrawals and so on. If it isn’t, notify the appropriate organization.
  • Call your credit card company or bank if a statement is late. You should receive a statement of account activity every month. If it’s late, it could be a sign that someone has stolen your credit card and changed the billing address so you wouldn’t notice additional charges. The best way to protect this information is to cancel your paper statements and sign up for online statements.
  • Don’t give out personal information like your Social Security Number unless you initiate the contact or know the caller.
  • Tear or shred documents that contain personal information, including credit card receipts, insurance forms, physician and bank statements and credit card offers.
  • Carry only as many credit cards as you need, and don’t carry your Social Security card with you.
  • Deposit outgoing mail directly into post office boxes, not in your own mailbox. Thieves could easily access your mailbox and obtain personal information from the contents.
  • Review your credit report once a year to verify accuracy. You’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Request a report online, by phone or mail, or by visiting

What to do if you suspect identity theft

  • Notify local law enforcement to file a report.
  • Call the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline at 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338).
  • Contact the three main credit bureaus and ask to have a fraud alert placed on your credit file.
    • Equifax: 800-525-6285
    • Experian: 888-397-3742
    • TransUnion: 800-680-7289
  • If you’re a U.S. Bank customer, call the U.S. Bank Fraud Liaison Center immediately at 877-595-6256.

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