Identity theft is the act of someone else deliberately using another person's identity without their knowledge. Simply put, it is the theft of personally identifiable information (PII).
PII can include a person's name, date of birth, social security number, driver's license number, bank account information, and credit card information. This is usually done in an attempt to gain access to the other individual's finances or credit. With the appropriate information, the perpetrator can apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services in someone else's name. This fraudulent act can end up causing the victim valuable time and money to restore what is rightfully theirs. It can also damage their creditworthiness.
Know the Signs of Identity Theft
It may be hard to know that you are the victim of identity theft. Here are some things to be on the lookout for:
You receive bills for items that you do not remember purchasing.
Your credit report has accounts you are not familiar with opening.
You know you should not be denied credit but are turned down repeatedly.
What You Can Do to Prevent Identity Theft
So that you won't be the victim of identity theft, here are some highly recommended things to practice regularly:
Place a hold on your mail when you are on vacation or travel for consecutive days, and make sure to check your mail daily.
Secure your social security card. This may mean not always having it in your wallet.
Never share PII with anyone. PII is any information that someone can track back to you, such as your social security number, bank account number, or even your home address).
Review your credit report often. You can get a free credit report at least once a year.
Dispute any items that are inaccurate in your report.
Reporting Identity Theft
Should you or anyone you know become the victim of identity theft, call your local police at once. You may also report specific types of identity theft to other federal agencies.
Senior citizens often share their personal information with doctors and caregivers. If a senior citizen you know has become a victim of this fraud, you may also want to contact Medicare's fraud office.
If someone has falsely used your social security number to file tax returns in your name, you may also want to contact the IRS for tax identity theft.
Identity theft can happen to anyone at any time. To learn more about identity theft and other ways to protect yourself and your family, visit The Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Information page.