What is identity theft?
As defined by the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information without your permission, such as your name, credit card or Social Security number, to commit fraud or other crimes. One example of this is if someone were to assume your identity, complete with correct Social Security number, current employment information, etc. and takes over your credit and/or bank accounts, open new accounts and loans, secures cell phones and apartments, all in your name.
How can identity thieves get my information?
Some of the ways that thieves can steal your identity include:
- Going through your mail and trash looking for personal information
- Stealing your purse or wallet
- Changing your address without your knowledge in order to redirect your mail
- Acquiring your personal information from unsecured Internet sites
- Illegally posing as your landlord or someone else with permissible purpose to gain access to your credit report
- Working with someone that has access to your personnel information
How can I prevent identity theft?
Although not 100% preventable, the risk of identity theft can be significantly reduced by taking the following precautions:
- Protect Your Mail by shredding information that contains personal identification such as credit statements, bank statements, pay stubs, charge receipts, pre-screened credit applications. Also, rather than place outgoing mail in your home mailbox, deposit your outgoing mail at the post office or a local collection box.
- Safeguard Your Credit Cards by signing them in permanent ink upon receipt, keeping them in your view at all times while making a purchase, not signing blank charge slips, destroying all carbons, saving receipts, limiting the number of credit cards you carry and only giving out your credit card number over the phone when you initiate the call.
- Review Your Credit Statements for accuracy and keep them in a safe place. Should your statement arrive late or not at all, contact your creditor to notify them and to get a duplicate statement.
- Guard Your Passwords and PINs by never writing your ATM's PIN in your checkbook or on your card. Additionally, shield your PIN when entering it and use a unique number that is not obvious. And lastly, never leave your receipts behind; be sure to take them with you.
- Check Your Credit Report Regularly. By virtue of having an Equifax Credit Watch™ subscription, you'll receive alerts of key changes to your Equifax credit file. These alerts are your triggers to pull an updated copy of your credit report to investigate the changes within it. If you are unfamiliar with the activity that caused the change to your credit file, then this could be a warning sign of possible fraudulent activity.
What is a fraud alert?
A fraud alert is a consumer statement added to your credit file. This statement alerts creditors that you may be a victim of fraud, including identity theft, as well as requests that they follow certain procedures to protect you in connection with requests for new credit accounts, increasing credit on an existing account, or issuance of a new card on an existing account. There are two types of fraud alerts: an initial fraud alert that lasts for 90 days, and an extended fraud alert that lasts for 7 years.
What are the benefits of a fraud alert?
A fraud alert, when added to your credit file, requires creditors using the file to take reasonable steps to verify your identity, which may include contacting you by phone if you've provided your telephone number, prior to establishing any new credit accounts in your name, issuing a new card on an existing account, or increasing the credit limit on an existing account, if requests for any of these actions are made. The purpose of this is to confirm that the request is not the result of identity theft.
How do I place an initial fraud alert on my credit file?
For your convenience, we can place a fraud alert on your Equifax credit file 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling our auto fraud line at 1-877-478-7625 and following the prompts. Once placed with Equifax, the other two credit major reporting agencies, Experian and Trans Union, will be notified as well.
How do I place an extended fraud alert on my credit file?
You may place an extended 7 year alert by writing to Equifax or one of the other nationwide credit reporting companies and providing an Identity Theft Report as well as a day and evening telephone number. The requirements for an Identity Theft Report are listed on the FTC's website at www.ftc.gov. The extended alert removes your name from pre-screened offers of credit for 5 years
What about the other major credit reporting agencies, do I have to contact them separately?
As of April 1, 2003, you no longer have to contact all three of the major credit reporting agencies to have a fraud alert added to your credit files. By placing a fraud alert with just one of the three agencies, the other two will be notified automatically through a new industry procedure.