Don't be a Victim of Identity Theft

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Identity theft is when someone’s identifying information (like their name, social security number, bank account, or credit card) is stolen by someone else. Once thieves have your personal information they may use it to:

•Buy items/services without paying for them;
•Establish credit and run up the charges on the accounts;
•Open bank accounts and write bad checks;
•File fraudulent tax returns;
•Obtain phone and utility services and run up the bills;
•Commit crimes.

As a result, you may be denied employment and credit or even imprisoned. Depending on the type of theft, it may take anywhere from a few months to several years to restore your name, reputation and credit. Committing identity theft is easier than you think. The most common ways include:

Shoulder surfing. Thieves watch or listen as victims conduct transactions, like watch you as you type in your PIN number at the ATM.

Dumpster diving. Thieves search through garbage to locate documents that contain your personal information, such as bank and credit card statements, bills and checks.

Spam. Thieves pose as financial institutions over e-mail or post ads on the web to lure people into responding with their personal information. These scams state things like “you’ve won a laptop,” just fill in the following information.

Conventional stealing. Thieves steal wallets, mail, or bribe people who have access to your information.

Skimming. Some criminals place a device over the card slot at ATM machines that can read the magnetic strip on your debit or credit card number.

Protect yourself. The best way to protect your personal information is to monitor your accounts and check your credit report (at least once each year) to detect problems early on. Keep your social security card in a safe place separate from other important identifying information. Do not give your number to anyone over the phone if you cannot verify that they are from a reputable organization. Do not throw away documents with personal identifying information without shredding or tearing them up first. Do not give out your personal information on non-secure sites or respond to spam e-mail or advertisements. Be sure to select passwords that cannot be easily guessed like your birthday or phone number and change them every 30 days.

Taking action. If you suspect that you are a victim, take action immediately. First, file an identity theft report with the local police department. Second, contact all the organizations involved and report the incident; close any accounts if applicable. Third, place a fraud alert on your account with the three major credit bureaus. Finally, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT.

Acknowledgement: This fact sheet was originally developed by youth and staff at, a website that helps teens get through tough times. 


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