According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) millions of people have their identities stolen each year. Identity theft can wreak havoc on your life and your credit...but there are steps you can take to help prevent it and ways to recover from it if you become a victim.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when someone steals and uses your personal information; e.g., name, address, Social Security Number, credit card number, etc. This information is used to commit fraud such as obtaining additional credit, establishing accounts or making purchases...using your good name and credit.
Ways to help prevent identity theft:
1. Shred any documents containing personal information.
2. Protect your Social Security Number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or have your Social Security Number appear on your checks. Don't provide it unless it's absolutely necessary; instead, request that a different identifier be used.
3. Don't give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless it is a trusted source that you know. Additionally, don't give it out unless you initiated the contact or transaction.
4. When using a public Wi-Fi, don't send out any personal information.
5. Never click on links in unsolicited emails or respond to unsolicited text messages, especially if they are requesting personal information, passwords or Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). No financial institution will ever ask you to verify account information this way. Instead, contact the company or financial institution directly to report the incident.
6. Create passwords that would be difficult to guess. Incorporate numbers, symbols and capitalization – even sentences if possible.
7. Keep your personal information in a secure place, especially if others have access to your home.
If you've become a victim of identity theft, here are four steps to take immediately:
1. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus and request that a fraud alert be put on your file. That bureau will notify the other two bureaus on your behalf (if you don't receive confirmation, follow up). These alerts tell creditors to contact you before any new accounts are opened or existing ones are changed.
2. Close all accounts that were compromised or you suspect of being compromised. When opening new accounts that require Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) or passwords, create new ones.
3. File an ID theft complaint with the FTC online or by calling 877.ID.THEFT (877.438.4338).
4. File an ID theft complaint with the local police department. Have a copy of your FTC complaint with you for reference. Be sure to obtain a copy of the completed complaint so you can file it with the three credit bureaus and creditors with whom your credit has been compromised. The FTC complaint can be used as a backup.
More information on ID theft, prevention and recovery is available on the FTC's identity theft website.
For tips and information on Visa® card security and fraud prevention, visit the Visa Security Sense website.