Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal identifying information without your permission. This information may include your name, address, driver license number, Social Security number, mother's maiden name, birth date, or financial information such as your bank account, credit card, or PIN number.
Identity thieves can use your personal information to open credit cards or checking accounts, make purchases using your existing bank account or credit card, get a bogus driver license or Social Security card, make long distance calls, or apply for a job. However, you can take steps to protect your identity.
Protecting your identity begins by reducing the number of places where your personal information can be found. You can remove yourself from many mailing lists for up to five years by contacting the Direct Marketing Association. There is a processing fee for this service, however you can opt-out of pre-screened credit offers for free through www.optoutprescreen.com. Other free services include the state and federal no-call lists, and the Network Advertising Initiative's opt-out list which opts out of major online tracking companies.
Next reduce the number of credit cards you have and only carry the cards that you intend to use. If possible use credit cards that have your photo on them.
If any of your credit card companies send random-issue convenience checks, request in writing to be removed from that mailing list. Also ask your bank about its privacy and information policies. Find out if your bank provides your account information to third parties. Ask to opt out of this practice or request that they notify you in advance. If you receive an offer for a pre-approved credit card or loan but aren't interested, shred the application form before throwing it away.
Do not carry your Social Security card with you unless you need it. Provide your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask if another number can be used instead. Also never print your Social Security number on your checks. If your workplace displays your Social Security number on a timecard or other place open to public view, ask them to change this procedure.
You can also reduce the chance that you will be a victim of identity theft by taking the following precautions:
Because of the nature of identity theft, you may not realize your identity has been stolen until much later. By then, your good name and credit history can be in ruins. Because nothing can guarantee you protection from identity thieves, you should also be vigilant to detect theft as quickly as possible.
Check your bank account and credit billing statements carefully each month for unauthorized activity. If you receive a credit card in the mail that you did not request, call the issuer to find out why. If it was requested by someone else in your name, cancel it immediately. When creating a password or pin, do not use numbers such as your birth date or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Also avoid using names, such as your mother's maiden name or your birthplace, that are likely to appear in public records.
If you are over 25, you should receive a Social Security statement by mail each year. Check it thoroughly and report any inaccuracies to the Social Security Administration. You can order a copy of your statement by calling (800) 772-1213.
You should review your credit reports for errors or fraud. You can order a free copy from each of the three credit bureaus once a year from the website www.annualcreditreport.com. Even if you have not been a victim of identity theft, consider asking the credit bureaus to place a security alert on your account as a protective measure. This alert instructs creditors to call you personally to verify applicant information when applying for new credit. While this will prevent you from getting instant credit, such as on-site approval for store charge cards, it will also stop others from getting credit in your name. Be sure to ask how long the alert will last, how to extend it and how to remove it.
If you need extreme protection, you can take the additional step of placing a security freeze on your credit report. A security freeze allows you to freeze, or lock, your credit files with each of the three major credit bureaus, so that lenders and retailers generally cannot access your credit information. A freeze will cost you money both to initiate and lift.
To learn whether any bad checks have been passed in your name, contact the Shared Check Authorization Network (SCAN). SCAN has the ability to quickly determine whether your checks have been fraudulently used in the United States. You can call SCAN at (800) 262-7771.
If you are suspicious that someone has accessed your bank account without authorization or has passed a check in your name, contact your bank immediately.
Following these steps will help you to know if you become a victim of identity theft.
If you become a victim, it's important you act quickly. Visit our identity theft Web site, texasfightsidtheft.gov to find a wealth of helpful information including our Identity Theft Kit. Information at texasfightsidtheft.gov will help you stop a perpetrator from continuing to use your identity and help you recover from the effects. Information on the site includes: how to report the crime, work with businesses, close fraudulent accounts, and place a security alert and/or freeze on your credit report.
You can also contact the Victims Initiative for Counseling Advocacy and Restoration of the Southwest (VICARS) at www.idvictim.org. VICARS is a program of the Texas Legal Services Center that provides free civil legal services to victims of identity theft and financial fraud.
If another person is arrested and falsely uses your name or other personal information, Texas law allows you to have this information expunged from the arrest record. Contact the Crime Records Service at the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) for more information on the expunction process.
You can contact the Federal Trade Commission's Dallas office to report identity theft in Texas. Their Dallas office covers all of Texas.
Federal Trade Commission
100 N. Central Expressway, Suite 500
Dallas, TX 75201
You can also file a complaint with our office. For a consumer complaint form call our Consumer Protection Division at (800) 621-0508 or file on line.