Identity Theft & You
What you need to know to protect the power of your identity
Identity theft is a real problem, but Equifax® is here to provide you with real solutions. By understanding how identity theft happens, who it is happening to, and ways to avoid it, you can help protect yourself against identity theft.
What is identity theft and how does it happen?
Identity theft occurs when someone steals an individual's personal information: name, address, Social Security number, credit card credentials, etc. Using this personal information, the identity thief can take over credit accounts, open new accounts, secure a loan, rent an apartment, access bank accounts or commit other crimes at the victim's expense.
Identity thieves can obtain your information in ways you may have never even considered. By knowing their sources, you can take precautions to secure your personal information and thwart identity theft. Your sensitive documents leave you vulnerable to identity theft and can be retrieved from your mailbox, your trashcan, or your purse or wallet.
An identity thief might even go so far as to complete a change of address form in your name or pose as a landlord or person with lawful right to such information. Information can even be stolen by employees at places where you make credit card purchases, on unsecured Internet sites, or from sensitive documents at work.
When identity theft strikes, the effects can be devastating. What's more, because it frequently involves no physical theft, identity theft may not be noticed until significant damage has been done — often, several months and thousands of dollars later. Identity theft can impact its victims through loss of job opportunities, denial of loans, and long-term credit damage.
While identity theft has some unpleasant and alarming consequences, you can make efforts to understand it and take steps to avoid it. Explore the links to the right to find out more ways to be aware of potential identity theft schemes.
Where does identity theft happen and to whom?
While identity theft is rampant, there are certain factors that can make you more or less prone to being a victim. Learning about the ideal identity theft target gives you a tool to make sure you're not one.
In 2006 alone, there were almost 9 million identity theft victims.* According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one in five families has experienced identity theft. Although the problem is nationwide, states with the highest incidence of identity theft are California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Illinois and Washington.
While anyone could be targeted, certain factors make some people more susceptible to potential identity theft. If you've recently had your wallet stolen or have been subject to theft or home invasion, you may be vulnerable to identity theft. Similarly, if you aren't careful with your personal information, you could be an easy target for identity thieves.
Additionally, if a trusted company with your information suffers a data breach, you could become a target for identity theft. You should receive notification if your personal information has been breached. Take the necessary steps to consistently monitor, or even freeze, your credit file.
Learn how to safeguard yourself from identity theft. A few simple steps can help protect you from becoming a statistic.
How can I safeguard myself against identity theft?
When it comes to identity theft, vigilance is your number one tool. This means you should not only take precautions to safely file or destroy personal information, but also to stay aware of possible identity theft scams and the behaviors of those around you. Additionally, Equifax® offers a variety of products to help minimize the damage caused by identity theft.
Keep sensitive, personal information out of thieving hands by shredding all personal documents and depositing your outgoing mail in a post office collection box. Be sure to place your mail on hold when you go on vacation and make every effort to secure your mail or pick it up shortly after delivery to decrease the possibility of identity theft.
Never give anyone your credit card number, Social Security number or other personal information for a purpose you don't understand whether on the phone, by mail or on the Internet. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible or try to seek verification.
Sidestep identity theft on the Internet by setting your browser to alert you when entering unsecured pages. Also, simply verify that records at work are kept in a secure location, and are accessible only to employees who have a legitimate reason to access it. With a few simple steps, you can greatly increase your credit protection efforts and make yourself a less likely candidate for identity theft.
If you have any concerns with your credit card — whether it's lost, stolen or a new one hasn't arrived — go ahead and contact the card issuer. Watch cashiers and other people who come in contact with your card when you make purchases. Also, remember to shred your expired cards to keep your information as safe as possible.
Finally, be sure to check your credit report regularly. ID Patrol™ monitors your credit file and alerts you to key changes; allows you to lock and control access to your Equifax credit file; and alerts you if your personal information has been found in suspected underground Internet trading sites.
- Many people become victims of identity theft while relaxing in paradise — learn how to protect yourself from identity theft while on vacation.
- The more you know, the better you can protect yourself. Learn more about your finances with Equifax's helpful newsletter archive.
- Even better, sign up to get helpful tips and important identity theft scam alerts sent straight to your inbox each month!