Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft

What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone else uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security Number, credit card information or other identifying information, without your permission. These thieves use this information to commit fraud and other crimes under disguise of your identity.

Identity theft is a serious crime. Unlike other crimes, victims must first prove they are in fact a victim and then they are often faced with time consuming and costly measures to restore their good name and credit. Victims of identity theft may lose job opportunities or be refused loans, credit cards and mortgages.

The following information should help you avoid identity theft and the serious consequences that could arise. Also, if you are the victim of identity theft, the following information can help you repair your credit and clear your good name.

How identity thieves acquire your personal information:

  • They steal your purse or wallet containing credit cards, bank information and other personal identification information.
  • They steal your mail, including bank and credit card statements and pre-approved credit card offers.
  • They rummage through trash and retrieve receipts and discarded financial information.
  • They obtain your personal information that you shared on the Internet.

What identity thieves do with your personal information:

  • They open up new credit card and banking accounts under your name and run up the bills and pass bad checks on these accounts. The delinquent account is then reported under your name.
  • They take out loans under your name, don?t make payments and the delinquent account is attributed to you.
  • They establish phone services under your name.
  • They acquire IDs under your name.

How to protect yourself from identity theft.

Being aware of how identity theft can occur and knowing how to protect yourself in advance is the first step in safeguarding yourself from identity theft. Knowing in advance where and how identity thieves strike can save you from the frustrating consequences of having your identity stolen.

In your day-to-day activities

  • Attempt to choose unique PIN numbers; avoid using your name, birthday or the last four digits of your Social Security number as a PIN number ? a unique PIN number is more difficult for identity thieves to steal.
  • Always keep your PIN numbers private. If you have your PIN number written down, do not carry it with you.
  • Avoid disposing of bank, credit card or ATM receipts where you received them; shred the receipts and dispose of them at a different location.
  • Do not give out your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary. Many businesses that inquire and use your Social Security number as an identifying number are willing to substitute another number for this purpose.

With your mail

  • Do not leave your mail unchecked for long periods of time. If you are going to be away, you can request the U.S. Postal Service hold your mail until you return by calling 1-800-275-8777.
  • ?Opt-out? from receiving ?junk mail.? You can do this three ways:
    1. Contact each company individually and request to be removed from their mailing lists;
    2. Call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) to be removed from mailing lists for free credit card offers; and
    3. Contact the Direct Marketing Association  and requests your name be removed from all of their mailing lists.
  • Deliver your outgoing mail to a mailbox or the local post office instead of leaving it in an unsecured mail box.
  • Never put identifying information, like account numbers, on the outside of your mail.
  • Immediately contact your credit or service provider if your expected bills do not arrive; an identity thief may have diverted your mail to another address.
  • Shred all pre-approved credit offers before disposing of them.
  • Be wary of offers asking for your personal identifying information; check on the company before supplying it with this information.

While on the Internet

  • Use extreme caution when revealing any of your personal identification information on the Internet; look for the yellow ?lock? symbol in your browser window to ensure the site is secure.
  • Consider using an alternate disposable e-mail account, like Yahoo or Hotmail for transactions you complete over the Internet. Use this alternate account instead of your personal e-mail account in order to keep your identity more secure.
  • Use encryption technology when possible for transmitting personal information over the Internet (encryption technology scrambles the information you enter and is used by many Internet browsers).
  • Install and keep your virus software up to date.
  • Avoid storing personal information on your computer.

Checking your credit report today
You can check on your credit record today by contacting the four major credit reporting agencies and ensuring that your credit history is correct. Check your credit report for any inaccurate information or activities you did not authorize and report any inconsistencies immediately.

Credit Bureaus:

Equifax: http://www.equifax.com
Call: 1-800-685-1111 or
Write: P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian: http://www.experian.com
Call: 1-888-397-3742 or
Write: P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion: http://www.transunion.com
Call: 1-800-916-8800 or
Write: P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022

Innovis: http://www.innovis.com
Call: 1-800-540-2505
Write: P.O. Box 1358
Columbus, OH 43216-1358

What to do if you?ve been the victim of identity theft
If you become the victim of identity theft you may be able to reduce the amount of damage caused to your good name by following the proceeding five steps:

Report the theft to credit bureaus
You should contact the three major credit bureaus and report the incident of identity theft. You can ask the bureaus to put a ?fraud alert? on your credit report and request a ?victim?s statement.? These devices alert creditors to the presence of identity theft and requests creditors contact you personally before any new accounts or loans are opened under your name.

Credit Bureaus:

Equifax: http://www.equifax.com
Call: 1-800-685-1111 or
Write: P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian: http://www.experian.com
Call: 1-888-397-3742 or
Write: P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013

TransUnionhttp://www.transunion.com
Call: 1-800-916-8800 or
Write: P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022

Innovishttp://www.innovis.com
Call: 1-800-540-2505
Write: P.O. Box 1358
Columbus, OH 43216-1358

Contact the fraud department of your creditors

  • Contact all of your creditors? fraud departments and report the incident of identity theft.
  • Follow-up this initial call by mailing a copy of the Federal Trade Commission?s ? Identity Theft Affidavit ? (not all creditors accept this affidavit; if they do not, request a copy of their own affidavit, complete it and mail it to the creditor).
  • Keep detailed written documentation of all your conversations with creditors.
  • Keep copies of all the information you send to creditors in reference to your claim.

Contact your financial institution

  • If you suspect that your bank account has been tampered with, or you have lost your checks and or check-card, immediately contact your bank and report the theft.
  • You should request that the bank put a stop on any checks you did not write.
  • If you believe that your account has been seriously compromised, close the account.
  • You can contact the following institutions for assistance in halting the passing of bad checks in your name:
  • Shared Check Authorization Network (?SCAN?) at 1-800-262-7771 ( you can learn if any bad checks have been passed in your name before); and
  • Telecheck at 1-800-710-9898 ;
  • Category, Inc. at 1-800-437-5120 ; or
  • International Check Services at 1-800-631-9656

Report the theft to law enforcement officials

  • File a report with your local police department.
  • Provide copies of all relevant documentation when filing the report.
  • Keep a copy of the filed report in case creditors request proof that a report was filed.
  • The possession or use of the identifying information of another person for any unlawful purpose without that person?s consent is a criminal offense in Pennsylvania; you may wish to report any incident of ID theft to your local District Attorney?s office.

Other resources/courses of action

Helpful Resources

  • Office of Attorney General
    Visit http://www.attorneygeneral.gov, for information from the Bureau of Consumer Protection on identity theft. You can also contact the Office of Attorney General at 1-800-441-2555.
  • Federal Trade Commission
    The FTC?s website (http://www.ftc.gov) is also a helpful resource for consumers on identity theft. Included on the FTC?s site is the Identity Theft Affidavit that you can use to report identity theft to your creditors.
  • Better Business Bureau
    The BBB?s site is also a helpful consumer resource on the topic of identity theft. You can visit their site at http://www.bbb.org.