U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) www.sec.gov
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Assistance serves investors who complain to the SEC about investment fraud or the mishandling of their investments by securities professionals. If you believe that an identity thief has tampered with your securities investments or a brokerage account, immediately report it to your broker or account manager and to the SEC.
You can file a complaint with the SEC’s Complaint Center at www.sec.gov/complaint.shtml. Include as much detail as possible. If you don’t have Internet access, write to the SEC at: SEC Office of Investor Education and Assistance, 450 Fifth Street, NW, Washington DC, 20549-0213. For answers to general questions, call 202-942-7040.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect
The USPIS is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, and investigates cases of identity theft. The USPIS has primary jurisdiction in all matters infringing on the integrity of the U.S. mail. If an identity thief has stolen your mail to get new credit cards, bank or credit card statements, pre-screened credit offers, or tax information, or has falsified change-of-address forms or obtained your personal information through a fraud conducted by mail, report it to your local postal inspector.
You can locate the USPIS district office nearest you by calling your local post office, checking the Blue Pages of your telephone directory, or visiting www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.
United States Department of State (USDS) www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html
If you’ve lost your passport, or believe it was stolen or is being used fraudulently, contact the USDS through their website, or call a local USDS field office. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.
If an identity thief has established phone service in your name, is making unauthorized calls that seem to come from and are billed to your cellular phone, or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and/or calling card. Open new accounts and choose new PINs. If you’re having trouble getting fraudulent phone charges removed from your account or getting an unauthorized account closed, contact the appropriate agency below.
- For local service, contact your state Public Utility Commission.
- For cellular phones and long distance, contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at www.fcc.gov. The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. Call: 1-888-CALL-FCC; TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC; or write: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer Information Bureau, 445 12th Street, SW, Room 5A863, Washington, DC 20554. You can file complaints online at www.fcc.gov, or e-mail your questions to email@example.com.
Social Security Number Misuse
Social Security Administration (SSA) www.ssa.gov
If you have specific information of SSN misuse that involves the buying or selling of Social Security cards, may be related to terrorist activity, or is designed to obtain Social Security benefits, contact the SSA Office of the Inspector General. You may file a complaint online at www.socialsecurity.gov/oig, call toll-free: 1-800-269-0271, fax: 410-597-0118, or write: SSA Fraud Hotline, P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235.
You also may call SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of the earnings reported on your SSN, request a copy of your Social Security Statement, or get a replacement SSN card if yours is lost or stolen. Follow up in writing.
Contact the school or program that opened the student loan to close the loan. At the same time, report the fraudulent loan to the U.S. Department of Education. Call the Inspector General’s Hotline toll-free at 1-800-MIS-USED; visitwww.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/hotline.html?src=rt; or write: Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202-1510.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) www.treas.gov/irs/ci
The IRS is responsible for administering and enforcing tax laws. Identity fraud may occur as it relates directly to your tax records. Visitwww.irs.gov and type in the IRS key word “Identity Theft” for more information.
If you have an unresolved issue related to identity theft, or you have suffered or are about to suffer a significant hardship as a result of the administration of the tax laws, visit the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service website www.irs.gov/advocate/ or call toll-free: 1-877-777-4778.
If you suspect or know of an individual or company that is not complying with the tax law, report it to the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Informant Hotline by calling toll-free: 1-800-829-0433 or visit www.irs.gov and type in the IRS key word “Tax Fraud.”
For More Information
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) www.ftc.gov
The FTC wants consumers and businesses to know about the importance of personal information privacy. To request free copies of brochures, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).
Department of Justice (DOJ)www.usdoj.gov
The DOJ and its U.S. Attorneys prosecute federal identity theft cases. Information on identity theft is available atwww.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/idtheft.html.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) www.fbi.gov
The FBI, a criminal law enforcement agency, investigates cases of identity theft. The FBI recognizes that identity theft is a component of many crimes, including bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud, insurance fraud, fraud against the government, and terrorism. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.
U.S. Secret Service (USSS) www.treas.gov/usss
The U.S. Secret Service investigates financial crimes, which may include identity theft. Although the Secret Service generally investigates cases where the dollar loss is substantial, your information may provide evidence of a larger pattern of fraud requiring their involvement. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.
Financial Crimes Division www.treas.gov/usss/financial_crimes.shtml
Once resolved, most cases of identity theft stay resolved. But occasionally, some victims have recurring problems. To help stay on top of the situation, continue to monitor your credit reports and read your financial account statements promptly and carefully. You may want to review your credit reports once every three months in the first year of the theft, and once a year thereafter. And stay alert for other signs of identity theft, like:
- failing to receive bills or other mail. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- receiving credit cards that you didn’t apply for.
- being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason.
- getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services
you didn’t buy.
Getting Your Credit Report
Free Annual Credit Reports
A recent amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports, at your request, once every 12 months.
Free reports are being phased in during a nine-month period, rolling from states in the West to the states in the East. Beginning September 1, 2005, free reports will be accessible to all Americans, regardless of where they live.
- Consumers in the Western states – Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming -can order their free reports beginning December 1, 2004.
- Consumers in the Midwestern states – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin -can order their free reports beginning March 1, 2005.
- Consumers in the Southern states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas – can order their free reports beginning June 1, 2005.
- Consumers in the Eastern states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia – District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all U.S. territories can order their free reports beginning September 1, 2005.
To order your free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll-free 877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. The form is at the back of this brochure; or you can print it from www.ftc.gov/credit. Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually. They provide free annual credit reports only throughwww.annualcreditreport.com, 877-322-8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
For more information, see Your Access to Free Credit Reports, a publication from the FTC.
Other Consumer Rights to Free Reports
Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free report if a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment, and you request your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company. You’re also entitled to one free report a year if you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days; you’re on welfare; or your report is inaccurate because of fraud. Otherwise, a consumer reporting company may charge you up to $9.50 for another copy of your report within a 12-month period.
To buy a copy of your report, contact:
Under state law, consumers in Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont already have free access to their credit reports.
Last week I noticed that I was getting products in the mail that I hadn’t ordered. Then I noticed charges on my credit card statement that I hadn’t made. I spent a whole day calling the vendors numbers listed on my statement to let them know someone was using my credit card to make purchases without my permission. I don’t know what else this person may be doing with my accounts and/or my name, and I’m worried about that.From a consumer’s complaint to the FTC, January 7, 2004
When it comes to identity theft, you can’t entirely control whether you will become a victim. But there are certain steps you can take to minimize recurrences.
What To Do Today
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still have a line on their applications for your mother’s maiden name. Ask if you can use a password instead.
- Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.
- Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctor’s offices or other institutions that collect your personally identifying information. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with anyone else. If so, ask how your information can be kept confidential.
Active Duty Alerts for Military Personnel
If you are a member of the military and away from your usual duty station, you may place an active duty alert on your credit reports to help minimize the risk of identity theft while you are deployed. Active duty alerts are in effect on your report for one year. If your deployment lasts longer, you can place another alert on your credit report.
When you place an active duty alert, you’ll be removed from the credit reporting companies’ marketing list for pre-screened credit card offers for two years unless you ask to go back on the list before then.
See Consumer Reporting Companies for contact information. The process for getting and removing an alert, and a business’s response to your alert, are the same as that for an initial alert. See Fraud Alerts. You may use a personal representative to place or remove an alert.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or are sure you know who you’re dealing with. Identity thieves are clever, and have posed as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people to reveal their SSN, mother’s maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Check an organization’s website by typing its URL in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting it. Many companies post scam alerts when their name is used improperly. Or call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book. For more information, see How Not to Get Hooked by a ‘Phishing’ Scam, a publication from the FTC.
- Treat your mail and trash carefully.
- Deposit your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
- To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you’re discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. To opt out of receiving offers of credit in the mail, call: 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688). The three nationwide consumer reporting companies use the same toll-free number to let consumers choose not to receive credit offers based on their lists. Note: You will be asked to provide your SSN which the consumer reporting companies need to match you with your file.
- Don’t carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.
- Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary, and ask to use other types of identifiers. If your state uses your SSN as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your SSN as your policy number.
- Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you’ll actually need when you go out.
- Be cautious when responding to promotions. Identity thieves may create phony promotional offers to get you to give them your personal information.
- Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work; do the same with copies of administrative forms that have your sensitive personal information.
- When ordering new checks, pick them up from the bank instead of having them mailed to your home mailbox.
A Special Word About Social Security Numbers
Your employer and financial institutions will need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may ask you for your SSN to do a credit check if you are applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or signing up for utilities. Sometimes, however, they simply want your SSN for general record keeping. Ifsomeone asks for your SSN, ask:
- Why do you need my SSN?
- How will my SSN be used?
- How do you protect my SSN from being stolen?
- What will happen if I don’t give you my SSN?
If you don’t provide your SSN, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want. Getting satisfactory answers to these questions will help you decide whether you want to share your SSN with the business. The decision to share is yours.
The Doors and Windows Are Locked, But . . .
You may be careful about locking your doors and windows, and keeping your personal papers in a secure place. Depending on what you use your personal computer for, an identity thief may not need to set foot in your house to steal your personal information. You may store your SSN, financial records, tax returns, birth date, and bank account numbers on your computer. These tips can help you keep your computer – and the personal information it stores – safe.
- Virus protection software should be updated regularly, and patches for your operating system and other software programs should be installed to protect against intrusions and infections that can lead to the compromise of your computer files or passwords. Ideally, virus protection software should be set to automatically update each week. The Windows XP operating system also can be set to automatically check for patches and download them to your computer.
- Do not open files sent to you by strangers, or click on hyperlinks or download programs from people you don’t know. Be careful about using file-sharing programs. Opening a file could expose your system to a computer virus or a program known as “spyware,” which could capture your passwords or any other information as you type it into your keyboard. For more information, see File Sharing: Evaluate the Risks and Spyware, publications from the FTC.
- Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed Internet connection like cable, DSL or T-1 that leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. The firewall program will allow you to stop uninvited access to your computer. Without it, hackers can take over your computer, access the personal information stored on it, or use
it to commit other crimes.
- Use a secure browser – software that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the Internet -to guard your online transactions. Be sure your browser has the most up-to-date encryption capabilities by using the latest version available from the manufacturer. You also can download some browsers for free over the Internet. When submitting information, look for the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar to be sure your information is secure during transmission.
- Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. If you do, use a strong password a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. A good way to create a strong password is to think of a memorable phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password, converting some letters into numbers that resemble letters. For example, “I love Felix; he’s a good cat,” would become 1LFHA6c. Don’t use an automatic log-in feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you’re finished. That way, if your laptop is stolen, it’s harder for a thief to access your personal information.
- Before you dispose of a computer, delete all the personal information it stored. Deleting files using the keyboard or mouse commands or reformatting your hard drive may not be enough because the files may stay on the computer’s hard drive, where they may be retrieved easily. Use a “wipe” utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
For more information, see Site-Seeing on the Internet: A Traveler’s Guide to Cyberspace, a publication from the FTC.
It’s The Law
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, enacted by Congress in October 1998 (and codified, in part, at 18 U.S.C. §1028) makes identity theft a federal crime.
Under federal criminal law, identity theft takes place when someone “knowingly transfers, possesses or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
Under this definition, a name or Social Security number is considered a “means of identification.” So is a credit card number, cellular telephone electronic serial number, or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual.
Violations of the federal crime are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General. Federal identity theft cases are prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
For the purposes of the law, the FCRA defines identity theft to apply to consumers and businesses.
Many states have passed laws making identity theft a crime or providing help in recovery from identity theft; others are considering such legislation. Where specific criminal identity theft laws do not exist, the practices may be prohibited under other laws. Contact your state Attorney General (for a list of state offices, visit www.naag.org) or local consumer protection agency for laws related to identity theft, or visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Instructions for Completing the ID Theft Affidavit/ID Theft Affidavit [PDF only]
Annual Credit Report Request Form [PDF only]
When you contact us with complaints or requests for information, you can do it online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft; by telephone, toll-free at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); or by mail: Federal Trade Commission, Identity Theft Clearinghouse, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580. Before you contact us, there are a few things you should know.
We enter the information you send into the Identity Theft Clearinghouse, an electronic database. The Clearinghouse is a system of records covered under the Privacy Act of 1974. In general, the Privacy Act prohibits unauthorized disclosures of the records it protects. It also gives individuals the right to review records about themselves. Learn more about your Privacy Act rights and the FTC’s Privacy Act procedures by contacting the FTC’s Freedom of Information Act Office: 202-326-2430; www.ftc.gov/foia/privacy_act.htm.
The information you submit is shared with FTC attorneys and investigators. It also may be shared with employees of various federal, state, or local law enforcement or regulatory authorities. The FTC also may share your information with some private entities, such as consumer reporting companies and any companies you may have complained about, where it believes that doing so might help resolve identity theft-related problems. You may be contacted by the FTC or any of the agencies or private entities to whom your complaint has been referred. In some limited circumstances, including requests from Congress, the FTC may be required by law to disclose information you submit.
You have the option to submit your information anonymously. However, if you do not provide your name and contact information, law enforcement agencies and other organizations will not be able to contact you for more information to help in identity theft investigations and prosecutions.
Identity theft can be a stressful time with countless hours spent cleaning up the mess someone else has created. Find out precisely how to cleanup identity theft in this free tutorial.