For the Thirteenth Consecutive year, identity theft is at the top of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) list of consumer complaints.1 According to the Department of Justice, approximately 16.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2012, sustaining more than $24 billion of economic losses.2
Identity Theft is defined as someone who steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. In today’s hi-tech world where almost every company has a web page that gathers your personal information, never before has information been shared as broadly and quickly than in today’s hi-tech economy. It is important to understand that your information is out there and your privacy is not an absolute right anymore. You’re at risk every time you bank online, search, shop, text or tweet. The need to be hyper-vigilant about controlling and protecting your information should be a priority when enrolling or participating with web commerce.
But what happens when you find your personal information has been compromised? What are the steps you should take to protect you and your family’s assets and identities? If you find you’re a victim of identity theft, timing is of the essence. The FTC recommends the following steps be taken as soon as possible:
- Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports and review the reports carefully. This alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open any new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert.
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
- File a police report – Filing a report will help with creditors who may want proof of a crime.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission – This reporting will help law enforcement officials across the United States in their investigation. 1-877-438-4338
You can also be proactive in protecting your information by placing a credit freeze on your credit by calling the above listed consumer reporting companies. This will make sure no one uses your credit to open accounts or increase your credit limits. Of course if you decide to use them you will need to provide notice prior to changing your credit status.
Keeping your important papers secure, shredding documents with sensitive information before you put it in the trash and limiting the personal information you carry with you are among the ways you can protect your identity.
Identity theft can cost you time and money. It can destroy your credit and ruin your good name. These are but bits of information to help you deter, detect and preserve your private information.
1“Top Complaint to the FTC? ID Theft, Again,” Federal Trade Commission, 2013. Bridget Small, “Top Complaint to the FTC? ID Theft, Again,” Federal Trade Commission, March 1, 2013.
2“Victims of Identity Theft, 2012,” Department of Justice, 2012
Mary Kate Herndon
Client Service Assistant