Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. You can find out ways to prevent this from happening to you and how to defend against it if you become a victim.
There are several different actions you can take to prevent this from happening.
Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information.
- Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
- Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
- Don't use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roomates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house.
Be alert to signs that require immediate attention.
- Bills that do not arrive as expected
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason
- Calls or letters about purchases you did not make
Your Credit Report: Credit reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history.
- The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion - to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it.
- To order your free credit reports each year, visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies. You also can write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
- Your financial statements: Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make.
Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect it.
Place a Fraud Alert
Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open 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; a call to one company is sufficient:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
- Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
- Use the ID Theft Affidavit at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
- Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
- Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
File a Police Report
File a report with law enforcement officials to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission
Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.
- Online at the FTC identy theft website
- By phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
- By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580
The information presented on this page was taken from the FTC identity theft website.
You can sidestep would-be scammers by following these common-sense rules:
- Deal locally with folks you can meet in person. Follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99 percent of the scam attempts on craigslist.
- Never wire funds via Western Union, Moneygram or any other wire service, someone who asks you to do so is a scammer.
- Fake cashier checks and money oreders are common, and banks will cash them and then hold you responsible when the fake is discovered weeks later.
- Pacific University is not involved in any transaction, and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer "buyer protection" or "seller certification"
- Never give out financial information (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)
- Avoid deals involving shipping or escrow services and know that only a scammer will "guarantee" your transaction.
Who Should You Notifiy
Federal Trade Commission
- How to report scams to the FTC (FTC video)
- FTC toll free hotline: 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357)
- FTC online complaint form
- Canadian PhoneBusters hotline | 888-495-8501
- Competition Bureau Canada | 800-348-5358
- Internet Crime Complaint Center
- Software and Information Industry Association
- Local Police Department (Non-emergency number)
Examples of Scams From Other Sources
Someone claims that "craigslist" will guarantee a transaction, certify a buyer/seller, or claims that craigslist will handle or provide protection for a payment
- These claims are fraudulent, as craigslist does not have any role in any transaction
- Scammer will often send an official looking email that appears to come from craigslist, offering a guarantee, certifying a seller, providing payment services — all such emails are fakes!
Distant person offers a genuine-looking (but fake) cashier's check
- You receive an email offering to buy your item, or rent your apartment, sight unseen
- Cashier's check is offered for your sale item, as a deposit for an apartment, or for your services
- Value of cashier's check often far exceeds your item— scammer offers to "trust" you, and asks you to wire the balance via money transfer service
- Banks will often cash these fake checks and then hold you responsible when the check fails to clear, including criminal prosecution in some cases!
- Scam often involves a 3rd party (shipping agent, business associate owing buyer money, etc)
Someone requests wire service payment via Western Union or MoneyGram
- Scam "bait" items include apartments, laptops, TVs, cell phones, tickets, and other high value items
- Often claim that an MTCN or confirmation code is needed before he can withdraw your money— this is false, once you've wired money, it is gone
- Common countries currently include: Nigeria, Romania, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Spain, Italy, Netherlands—but could be anywhere
- Apartment listing may be local, but landlord/owner is "travelling" or "relocating" and needs you to wire money to them abroad
- Deal often seems too good to be true, price is too low, rent is below market, etc
Distant person offers to send you a money order and then have you wire money
- This is always a scam in our experience— the cashier's check is fake
- Sometimes accompanies an offer of merchandise, sometimes not
- Scammer often asks for your name, address, etc for printing on the fake check
- Deal often seems too good to be true
Distant seller suggests use of an online escrow service.
- Most online escrow sites are fraudulent, operated by scammers
Distant seller asks for a partial payment upfront, after which he will ship goods
- S/He says he trusts you with the partial payment
- S/He may say he has already shipped the goods
- Deal often sounds too good to be true
Foreign company offers you a job receiving payments from customers, then wiring funds
- Foreign company may claim it is unable to receive payments from its customers directly
- You are typically offered a percentage of payments received
- This kind of "position" may be posted as a job, or offered to you via email