Identity Theft: How to SPOT it and how to STOP it
February 02, 2023 12:00 AM
Identity Theft is when someone steals your personal information to get loans and credit cards, open bank accounts, cell phone service, apply for unemployment or worse, all in your name. You could spend months or years trying to clear your name and credit record. According to the National Council on Identity Theft Protection, in 2021, identity theft losses cost Americans $5.8 billion. In recognition of this threat, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has designated the week of January 30th through February 3rd as Identity Theft Awareness Week.
Unfortunately, most victims of Identity Theft do not become aware of the crime until it is too late. One way to minimize the damage is to recognize potential signs of trouble, such as missing bills in the mail, receiving unfamiliar credit cards, being turned down for credit and being contacted by debt collectors for purchases you did not make.
There are a number of ways that criminals can obtain your personal information. Some common methods include:
- Phishing scams: Criminals may send emails or text messages that appear to be from legitimate companies, asking for personal information or directing you to a fake website where you are prompted to enter personal information.
- Data breaches: Criminals may hack into a company's database and steal personal information that is stored there.
- Skimming: Criminals may attach a device to a card reader, such as at an ATM or gas pump, that captures your card information when you use it.
What to do if you're a victim:
- Get Fraud Alerts
If your identity has been stolen or you think you may have given personal information to a scam artist, contact the three credit reporting agencies right away and ask to have a fraud alert placed on your credit report. A fraud alert also entitles you to a free copy of each credit report, which you will need to identify what the thief has done in your name.
- Close Your Accounts
It is important that you close accounts that have been compromised or opened without your permission as quickly as possible. Contact the institution or company's fraud department. Be sure to follow up in writing. Keeping good records is essential. Keep a log of who you spoke to and when. Keep a file of all letters and important documents.
- File a Police Report
Notify local police, your county sheriff, or the PA State Police about your Identity Theft and, if possible, get a copy of the report.
- Notify the PA Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission
Both the PA Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) maintain databases of Identity Theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. You can file a complaint online with the FTC at ftc.gov. You can also file a complaint by calling the PA Attorney General at 1.800.441.2555 and the FTC Identity Theft hotline at 1.877.ID.THEFT.