What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is the criminal act of stealing personal information with the intent to use it to create cloned identities without the victim's consent.
How can someone steal your identity?
By co-opting your name, social security number, bank details, passport numbers, or some other piece of your personal information for his or her own use. In short, identity theft occurs when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge to apply for credit, purchase goods and services, or cloak the real identities of criminals undertaking serious criminal acts.
Ways to Prevent ID Theft
Minimize Your Risk
In the course of a busy day, you may write a check at the grocery store, charge tickets to a ball game, rent a car, mail your tax returns, call home on your cell phone, order new checks, or apply for a credit card. Everyday transactions that you may never give a second thought to are an identity thief's bread and butter. Each of these transactions requires the sharing of personal information: your bank and credit card account numbers; your income, Social Security number and name, address and phone numbers, to name a few. While you can't prevent identity theft, you can minimize your risk by managing your personal information wisely.
Catching Identity Theft Early
Sometimes an ID thief can strike even when you have been very careful. One of the best ways to catch identity theft is to regularly check your credit record. Order your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year and make sure all the information is correct. Also, follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
  • Before revealing personal identifying information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared with others. Ask if you have a choice about the use of your information: can you choose to have it kept confidential?
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if bills do not arrive on time.
  • Give your Social Security number only when necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.
  • Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry to what you actually need. If your I.D. or credit cards are lost or stolen, notify the creditors by phone immediately, and call the credit bureaus to ask that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file.
  • Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies every year. Make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities you've authorized.
  • Keep items with personal information in a safe place; tear them up or shred when you don't need them anymore. Make sure charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards, and credit offers you get in the mail are disposed of appropriately. Consider purchasing a shredder.

If you are a victim of Identity Theft
1, 2, 3 - Do these three things immediately!

  • Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus (contact information listed below) and report that your identity has been stolen. Ask that a "fraud alert" be placed on your file and that no new credit be granted without your approval.
  • For any accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened, contact the security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions. Close these accounts. Put passwords (not your mother's maiden name) on any new accounts you open.
  • File a report with your local police or the police where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report in case the bank, credit card company, or others need proof of the crime later on.

The Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, the Commission assists victims of identity theft by providing them with information to help them resolve the financial and other problems that can result from identity theft. The FTC also may refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action.

If you have been a victim of ID theft, you can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline.

By phone:
Toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502

By mail:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20580

FTC also has an on-line ID theft complaint form at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/victim.htm.

Contact the Credit BureausExplain to each credit agency that you have been a victim of fraud. Tell them what happened. You will be removed from a list the agencies provide for pre-approved credit.

Ask that a fraud alert or protective statement be added to your credit file. Be sure to ask how long the statement will remain on your credit file. Make sure it stays on for a year or longer. When a credit grantor accesses your credit file and sees the fraud alert, they should contact you at your home phone to verify that it was you who requested the credit. Also, add a victim's statement to your report. "My ID has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Contact me at (your phone number) to verify all applications."

Be aware that these measures may not entirely stop new fraudulent accounts from being opened by the impostor. Request a free copy of your credit report every few months so you can monitor any new fraudulent activity.

PO Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348
(800) 525-6285

PO Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634
(800) 680-7289

Trans Union has a Fraud Victim Assistance Department (FVAD) dedicated solely to the detection, prevention and rectification of credit fraud. You may call them at (800) 680-7289 or fax them at (714) 447-6034.

PO Box 1017
Allen, TX 75013
(888) 397-3742


When unauthorized use of a social security number is detected, work with each credit bureau, creditor, employer and/or government agency involved to remove inaccurate information from your records. You should check your credit report at least annually for inaccuracies. Keep copies of your correspondence, records of your telephone calls and other documents verifying your efforts to correct the problem.

Under certain circumstances, Social Security may assign you a new Social Security number if, after making all efforts to resolve the problems caused by someone else's misuse of your Social Security number, you are still being disadvantaged by the misuse. There is no guarantee that a new number will resolve your problem.

If you can document that you are being disadvantaged because of the misuse of your Social Security number, visit your local Social Security field office to request a new Social Security number. The Social Security Administration is the only agency authorized to issue a Social Security number and if you are eligible, no fee is charged.

Any private concern that offers to obtain a new Social Security number for a fee is most likely bogus and will provide no real service. In addition the number they supply may be fraudulent and your use of such a number could constitute a crime.

If you wish to report the misuse of your Social Security number to the Office of the Inspector General please write to them at:

Social Security Fraud Hotline
P.O. Box 17768
Baltimore, Maryland 21235

Or you can FAX the information to them at: (410) 597-0118.

Include a brief summary of the misuse and pertinent documents substantiating the misuse.

The USC Department of Public Safety, Crime Prevention and Community Education Section compiled the information in this bulletin from a variety of sources. Our telephone number is (213) 740-9565.