Identity Theft
Prevention, Protection and Resources

Equifax Financial Blog

Victims of identity theft can spend a significant amount of time and money cleaning up the mess a thief has made of their good name and credit.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to entirely prevent identify theft and credit fraud, but by managing your personal information carefully, you can substantially reduce the likelihood that identity theft will happen to you.

We’ve put together this page hub for you to use as a resource for both identity theft protection and ID theft prevention.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information - to take over your credit accounts, to open new ones, to take out a loan, to rent an apartment, to access bank accounts, or to commit many other crimes using your identity. 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 by its victims until significant damage has been done, potentially several months and thousands of dollars later.

How Do Thieves Do It?

First, they steal your personal information by…

  • Going through your mail or trash, looking for bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and tax information.
  • Stealing personal information from your wallet or purse, such as identification, and credit or bank cards.
  • Completing change-of-address forms to redirect your mail.
  • Acquiring personal information you share over unsecured sites on the Internet.
  • Buying personal information about you from an inside source. For example, a store employee may get your information from a credit application or by “skimming” your credit card when you make a purchase.
  • Accessing your personnel records at work.

Then, they use your personal information by…

  • Opening new credit card accounts using your name, date of birth, and Social Security Number. When they use these credit cards and do not pay the bills, the delinquency is reported on your credit report.
  • Establishing phone or cellular service in your name.
  • Opening a bank account in your name and writing bad checks on the account.
  • Counterfeiting checks or debit cards and draining your bank account.
  • Buying cars by taking out auto loans in your name.
  • Calling your credit card issuer and pretending to be you, changing the address on the account, requesting new cards be issued and the credit limit increased. Bills get sent to the new address, so you do not realize there is a problem until you check your credit report.
  • Filing for bankruptcy using your name to avoid paying debts they have incurred under your name.

Minimize the Potential Damage

According to the 2010 Javelin Identity Fraud Survey Report, there is an upturn in fraudsters targeting consumers’ existing credit card accounts, and opening new accounts with stolen information.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to prevent identity theft and credit fraud entirely, but by managing your personal information carefully, you can substantially reduce the likelihood that theft will happen to you. The following are some of the things you can do:

Lock your Equifax credit file

Equifax Credit Report Control™, found in Equifax Complete™ Premier, and other selected products lets you decide whether your Equifax credit file can be accessed (certain exceptions apply), and keeping your Equifax credit file locked can help prevent identity thieves from getting credit in your name1. This feature gives you greater protection and peace of mind because companies will not be able to pull your credit report without your authorization. When you are applying for loans or credit, Equifax Credit Report Control allows you and only you to unlock your Equifax credit file for a period of time, or even for specific companies. You can also make changes to your lock status online or over the phone when you are on the go.

1 Locking your credit file with Equifax Credit Report Control™ will prevent access to your Equifax credit file by certain third parties, such as credit grantors or other companies and agencies. Credit Report Control will not prevent access to your credit file at any other credit reporting agency, and will not prevent access to your Equifax credit file by companies like Equifax Personal Solutions that provide you with access to your credit report or credit score or monitor your credit file; Federal, state and local government agencies; companies reviewing your application for employment; companies that have a current account or relationship with you, and collection agencies acting on behalf of those whom you owe; for fraud detection and prevention purposes; and companies that wish to make pre-approved offers of credit or insurance to you.
* Equifax is pleased to provide this information for your convenience, however it is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional or legal advice of any kind or description. The information contained in these materials is believed to be reliable at the time it was written but it cannot be guaranteed in so far as it is applied to any particular individual or situation.

Place fraud alerts on your credit file

Equifax includes a free Automatic Fraud Alert* feature with Equifax Complete™ Premier and selected other products. This feature allows you to place an initial 90-day fraud alert on your Equifax credit file, which will then be referred to the other nationwide credit reporting agencies. A fraud alert on your credit file is a good way to help prevent identity theft, as it notifies lenders that they should take steps to verify your identity, such as by contacting you before authorizing new or additional credit.

* The Automatic Fraud Alert feature is made available to consumers by Equifax Information Services LLC and is fulfilled on its behalf by Equifax Consumer Services LLC.

Scan the Internet for your personal information with WebDetect™

You probably already know your identity is one of your most valuable assets, but are you aware that thieves are buying complete identities - including names, Social Security Numbers, functioning credit card numbers and more - for as little as a few dollars? The trend in thieves getting information on suspected underground Internet trading sites continues to rise.** This escalation has allowed criminals to buy personal information in bulk, putting more and more people at risk of identity theft.

According to the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, Americans in 2009 reported losses of $559 million as a result of online fraud, with average losses running around $575.‡ As identity thieves become savvier, some have recruited hackers to defraud consumers of personal information.

The stolen data is usually sold through instant-message groups or online forums that last only hours or days, to avoid being tracked by authorities.

Now you can take action to help protect yourself against this new kind of identity theft. Equifax Complete™ Premier includes WebDetect. This product scans suspected Internet trading sites and chat rooms for your Social Security Number (if elected) and up to 10 major credit and debit card numbers you provide, alerting you if your sensitive personal information is found on suspected trading sites. Just visit Equifax.com to learn more.

**Robertson, Jordan. “Online Crooks Face Tough Competition Washington Post. 8 April 2008. ‡ Internet Crime Complaint Center 2009 Internet Crime Report.”

Monitor your credit

Checking your credit report can help you identify potentially fraudulent activity before it wreaks havoc on your personal finances. Make sure your report is accurate and includes only those activities you can explain.

It is also a good idea to review your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year, as it is possible that information is reported to one but not the others.

Think about monitoring your credit like having a smoke detector in your home. It is not something you turn on once in a while; you keep it on, knowing it will alert you when there are problems. Key changes to your credit file will help you quickly identify potential problems. This is especially important given the amount of and speed at which personal information is exchanged today.

Enrolling in a credit monitoring product like Equifax Complete™ Advantage or Equifax Complete™ Premier takes the worry out of protecting your credit file, by notifying you within 24 hours of key changes that could be the early warning signs of identity theft.*

* Equifax is pleased to provide this information for your convenience, however it is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional or legal advice of any kind or description. The information contained in these materials is believed to be reliable at the time it was written but it cannot be guaranteed in so far as it is applied to any particular individual or situation.

Be careful when giving out your personal information

Whether on the phone, by mail, or on the Internet, never give anyone your credit card number, Social Security Number, or other personal information for a purpose you do not understand. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible, and do not carry your Social Security card. Be sure to keep it in a secure place.

Protect your documents and mail

To stop a thief from going through your trash or recycling bin to get your personal information, shred your charge receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements, expired charge cards, and pre-approved credit offers. You can help reduce your risk by choosing to opt-out of pre-approved offers of credit or insurance products by calling 1-888-567-8688. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it is delivered. If you plan to be away from home, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 or go to www.usps.com and request a vacation hold on your mail delivery.

Guard your credit cards and PINs/passwords

Minimize the information and the number of cards you carry in your wallet. Do not keep personal identification numbers (PINs) or other credit card access codes with your credit card. If you lose a card, contact the fraud division of the credit card company immediately. If you apply for a new credit card and it does not arrive in a reasonable period, contact the issuer. Watch cashiers when you give them your card for a purchase. Also, when you receive a new card, sign it in permanent ink and activate it immediately. Memorize your passwords and PINs instead of carrying them with you. Avoid using easily available information passwords, like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security Number or phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

Pay attention to billing cycles

Contact lenders immediately if your bills arrive late. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address.

Safeguard personal information in your home

Make sure that sensitive personal information, such as bank statements, Social Security paperwork, passports, etc., is stored in a safe place in your home. If you have a service appointment requiring outside help to enter your residence, pay special attention to ensure your personal information is secure. If you are unable to be at home for the duration of the appointment, consider asking a friend or family member to help.

Protect your computer

Viruses and other malware are rampant on the Internet, so keep your anti-virus software up-to-date. Use caution when downloading information, and be sure you know that the source is credible. When downloading e-mail attachments, perform a virus scan first - even if you know the person who sent it to you -- as his or her own e-mail account may have been compromised.

It happened to me - what do I do?

Have you been a victim of Identify Theft? If you prepared ahead of time, you may already know what you need to do, but not everyone has time to prepare. Below are a few of the initial critical steps you should take to regain your identity protection. You will find more detail about each of these steps in our ID Theft Protection Kit.

Keep a record - document what happened

Recovering from identity theft can be a long and complicated process, so it is important to keep a record of all communications. Send all letters by certified mail and keep copies. If you think your case might lead to a lawsuit, keep track of how much time you spend dealing with the problem.

Call the police

Report the crime to the police or sheriff’s department that has jurisdiction in your case and request a police report. Though the authorities may be limited in what they can do to help, a report may be necessary to help convince lenders that someone else has opened an account in your name.

Check your credit report

Get your credit report from each of the three nationwide credit-reporting agencies and check for any new accounts opened in your name. Because new accounts may take up to six months to show up on the report, continue to monitor your credit reports. A Three-Bureau Credit Report from Equifax will give you a line-by-line comparison of your credit history as reported to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Contact any of the credit reporting agencies

Contact any one of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies and request that an initial 90 day fraud alert be placed on your credit file. Once your alert is placed on your credit file at one of the nationwide credit reporting agencies, it will automatically be forwarded to the other two so that you do not need to contact each of them separately.

Subscribe to a credit monitoring product

Products like Equifax Complete™ Advantage or Equifax Complete™ Premier monitor activity in your credit file. When there are changes to key information, like when new credit accounts are applied for in your name, you receive an alert. You can then view the alert, which will describe the change to your credit file, so that you can make sure it is not the result of identity theft or fraud. You can also help prevent identity theft from taking place by using the Automatic Fraud Alert feature (included with Equifax Complete™ Premier), which enables you to place a fraud alert on your Equifax credit file (and referred to the other nationwide credit reporting agencies) and is automatically renewed every 90 days. This prompts lenders to take steps to verify your identity, such as by contacting you before authorizing new or additional credit.

Visit www.equifax.com to learn more about Equifax identity and credit monitoring products.

Children are also victims

People who typically steal a child’s identity fall into two categories:

Unknown perpetrators - these thieves that have either stolen or purchased the Social Security number and sometimes other identifying information of a child.

Family members - A reality of child identify theft is the fact that parents or family members of a child have been found to use the child’s identity information, often in times of desperation.

Read more about child identity theft in our Child Identity Theft Education Kit

Products to Help Protect Your Identity

Best For Basics

Equifax Complete™ Advantage Plan

Get the essentials to understand your credit and identity in one easy-to-use product.

Enhanced Coverage

Equifax Complete™ Premier Plan

Empower yourself with this comprehensive credit monitoring and identity protection product.

Ideal For Families

Equifax Complete™ Family Plan

Featuring the benefits of Equifax Complete™ Premier, Family Plan covers two adults and up to four children.

Report ID Fraud to the Credit Bureaus:

Equifax
P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta, GA 30348
Report fraud: Call 1-800-525-6285 or write to address above.
Order credit report: 1-800-685-1111
www.equifax.com
Experian (formerly TRW)
P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
Report fraud: Call 1-888-397-3742 or write to address above.
Order credit report: 1-888-397-3742
www.experian.com
TransUnion
P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834
Report fraud: Call 1-800-680-7289 or write to address above.
Order credit report: 1-800-888-4213
www.transunion.com

Resources:

File a Complaint:

Postal Inspection Services
If you suspect someone has been tampering with your mail in any way, go this address for instructions on steps to take:
https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/
forms/IDTheft.aspx
Do you suspect that your Social Security number is being used fraudulently? Contact the Office of the Inspector General at:
http://oig.ssa.gov/report-fraud-
waste-or-abuse
If you suspect your identification is being used improperly in connection with tax violations, please visit the following site for more information:
http://www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-
Protection