Overview of identity theft
Identity theft is when a person pretends to be someone else to do things like open bank accounts or buy things using someone else’s name. This often happens when someone’s wallet that includes a driver’s license, credit card, or insurance information is lost or stolen.
Signs of identity theft include unknown:
- Charges on a bank statement
- Criminal charges on a record
- Bills from a hospital or doctor
- Bank or credit card accounts opened
- Tax return filed in your name
Identity theft is a crime with severe consequences. Victims (and potential victims) of identity theft can take steps to protect their names, reputation, and credit.
How to avoid identity theft
There are many ways that thieves can get your identity:
- Your wallet
- Your online accounts
- Your mailbox
- Your garbage
Thieves can steal your identity by taking your wallet and using the cards and IDs inside it. To protect yourself you should avoid doing certain things:
- Never carry your Social Security card with you;
- Don't write your PINs down; and
- If your wallet or purse is stolen, report it immediately.
If you report the card or checks stolen before any charges are made, you won't be responsible for those charges. The longer you wait to report, the more money you might be responsible for paying back. So report the card as soon as you know it's been stolen.
Thieves can steal your identity by hacking into your online accounts if they have your passwords. To protect yourself, you should always use strong passwords:
- Use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols;
- Don't use personal information like your birthday or your pet's name;
- Don't save your passwords on computers that aren't your own;
- There are mobile apps you can use to safely store all your passwords in one place; and
- Don't send someone a password over email or text message.
Thieves can steal your identity by taking documents from your garbage or mail:
- Don't let your mail sit in your mailbox;
- Rip up or shred any documents with your personal information; and
- Opt out of new credit cards so that companies won't send you offers in the mail.
Thieves will sometimes try to scam personal information out of you on the phone, mail, or in person. To protect yourself make sure you trust the company.
To keep tabs on any suspicious behavior, you can review your credit report. Remember, you get one free credit report a year. Do not pay for it. You can obtain a credit report through Annual Credit Report. You can also place a fraud alert on your credit report if you aren't opening any new credit cards. This means that if someone tries to apply for a new credit card in your name, you will be told and you can close the account. You can place a fraud alert by calling one of these three reporting agencies:
- Experian at 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289
- Equifax at 1-800-525-6285
The fraud alert will stay on your file for 90 days, but you can renew it if you need to. If you are a victim of identity theft, you can ask for an extended fraud alert. The extended fraud alert can last for 7 years, and you will have to provide a copy of the identity theft report.
Additionally, you can sign up for a third party credit monitoring service. These are often free or may be included in your bank. Credit monitoring services will send you monthly reports on your credit, including email alerts of fraudulent activity to your credit.
Learn more about How to recognize identity theft scams
Steps to take if you are a victim of identity theft
If you have been the victim of identity theft, it is important to follow the below steps to protect yourself from further problems.
Step 1: Report the crime to the police
Go to your local police station report the identity theft. Ask the police officer to fill out a police report. Save a copy of the police report as proof of the crime. The report is important to give to companies and government offices to prove the identity theft. If the police did not give you a report, write down the name of the officer(s) you spoke with, the time and date of the conversation and the address of the precinct or station. Keep this note for your records.
Step 2: Contact companies and government agencies
After filing a report with the local police, you will need to contact your bank, creditors, government agencies and other businesses:
Most banks have fraud departments. You can find the phone number for your bank’s fraud department on your bank’s website, bank statements or the back of your debit cards. Call the bank and ask them to cancel the fraudulent charges from your account, cancel your current debit card, and give you a new card.
Credit card companies and other creditors
Call your credit card company and other creditors to tell them that you are the victim of identity theft. You can find the phone number for your creditors on your credit card company’s website, credit card statements or the back of your credit cards. Ask the creditor to note the identity theft in your file and to review all recent activity on your account to spot when and where the unauthorized charges were made. Then, ask the creditor to cancel the unauthorized charges from your account, cancel your current credit card, and give you a new card.
Credit reporting agencies
Contact at least one of the three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to ask that a fraud alert is placed on your name and social security number. Also, ask them to add a victim’s statement to your file which asks all creditors to contact you before any new account is opened under your name or anyone tries to change your existing accounts. Once the fraud alert and victim’s statement are placed in your account, it will be more difficult for anyone to open or change accounts under your name.
Contact your insurance company. Tell them about the identity theft and ask if your policy covers loss and damage due to identity theft.
Alert your current and prospective employers of the identity theft. It may come up if the employer runs a background check or credit check.
Illinois Secretary of State
If the identity theft involves your driver’s license, traffic or parking tickets, car title or a business registered under your name in Illinois, you should alert the Illinois Secretary of State. More information on how to contact them is on the website. The Illinois Secretary of State can also check if a new driver’s license under your name has been issued. If so, ask for your driver’s license number to be changed and for a new driver’s license.
Social Security Administration
If the identity theft involves your social security number, contact the Social Security Administration. If your current number has been used by an identity thief, they may have to give you a new social security number and card.
US Department of State
United States Postal Service (USPS)
Contact USPS, to inform them if your mail has been stolen, if an account has been opened under your name or if you are concerned about credit card offers and statements being sent under your name.
Step 3: Send follow-up letters
Take notes during your conversations with the above agencies and companies. Email or write a letter to each company or agency that includes a summary of your discussion, the name of the person you spoke with and the date and time of the conversation. Ask the company or agency for a written response. Keep a copy of every letter you send and receive, and if possible, send all messages via certified mail with a return receipt, so you have proof.
Step 4: Do not make payments that result from your identity theft
If you are a victim of identity theft, do not pay any bill (including partial payments) or honor any checks that were written or cashed by the identity thief. Pay only bills and other charges that you made.
Identity theft is a crime and if another person, including the identity thief, threatens legal action against you for standing up for your rights, report this to the Illinois Attorney General.
Step 5: Recovering from identity theft
The official government Identity Theft website will walk you through step by step to fix your credit report and bills. You:
- Answer questions about what happened to you
- Put in your name, address, and other information
- Get your Identity Theft Report
- Get a recovery plan created just for you