How can someone steal your identity? Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security Number, credit card number, or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.

Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years and their hard-earned money, cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing, or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.

How the Thief Gets Your Personal Information

  • Stealing your purse or wallet
  • Pilfering information such as bank statements and pre-approved credit card applications from your mailbox
  • Posing as your employer, loan officer, or landlord to get your credit reports
  • Going through trash for credit card carbons or loan applications
  • Watching transactions at automated teller machines to capture your PIN

How to Minimize the Risk

  • Never carry your Social Security Number in your wallet or diary or printed on checks
  • Guard your Social Security Number closely, giving it out only to official authorities or businesses you trust. Some firms will accept another identifier if you ask
  • Be careful how you dispose of documents. Ideally, shred them
  • Exercise your right to stop your credit header from being sold, which will also stop pre-approved offers of credit. Call the credit bureaus’ special toll-free line at (888) 567-8688
  • Don’t post personal information on the internet for example, on genealogical or college reunion sites.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year

If You Are Victimized

  1. Contact Tewksbury Police Department at (978) 851-7373 and report fraudulent activity under your name. A detective will be assigned to your case and ask for details such as where the charges occurred, how much was spent, and how your identity was stolen (internet, lost wallet, etc.). When you are finished providing the detective with all of your information, be sure to write down the detective’s name and the case number since many fraud affidavits will ask for these
  2. Call one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion)* to place a fraud alert on your credit report. It is unnecessary to call all three since the one that you contact will inform the other two agencies in addition to sending you a copy of your credit report for review. A fraud alert is extremely important since it requires companies to verify your identity before issuing a line of credit, thus preventing thieves from opening new accounts under your name
  3. If the perpetrators were able to open new accounts, contact each creditor and notify them of the fraudulent activity. They will close the accounts and most likely have you fill out a fraud affidavit
  4. For those accounts that you opened and are now compromised, contact the creditor and inform them that your identity has been stolen. Not only will they close the accounts, but many will read through the most recent charges to help you determine how long the abuse has been going on and how much has been charged to your name
  5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by calling (877) 438-4338 (877-IDTHEFT)
  6. Change all of the passwords that you use online. Since the thieves may have acquired your information through one of your password-protected accounts, think of a completely different word and try not to use the same one for all of your accounts. Also, while it may be inconvenient to type your passwords each time you want to log in, never save your passwords online or on your computer
  7. If you lost your entire wallet or you believe that someone is using your driver’s license, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Secretary of State, etc. as soon as possible to get a new driver’s license number and card. Even if you just renewed your license, you will be required to take a new picture and pay all of the regular fees
  8. Keep records!! Throughout your dealings with creditors, companies, and detectives, always write down the name of the individual you spoke with, their employer, the date and time, and a short summary of your discussion. Keep all of this information in a centralized location and make sure that it is in a safe place since it can be used as evidence in your case. While you may be more diligent at the beginning, important information may come to light later so be sure to track everything until all of your disputes are resolved

Identity theft doesn’t have to ruin your life or your credit. By staying calm, getting organized, and taking these crucial steps, you can bounce back from this stressful situation and stop thieves dead in their tracks.