Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone uses your name, Social Security number, date of birth, credit card or bank account information, or other personal information without your authorization for the purpose of committing fraud. The fraud may be the use of your name or personal information to open a credit card account, to get a loan, to get utility service, to get work, or to get a driver's license.
How do I know if I have been a victim of identity theft?
You may notice charges on your credit card or debit card that you didn't sign for and don't know anything about or you may see withdrawals from your bank account that were not yours;
- You may start getting bills or collection calls for a credit card or account that you didn't open;
- A billing cycle may pass without getting your statement;
- You may be denied credit because of a debt that is not yours or a court judgment against you in another county or state;
- You may have your driver's license suspended or the renewal of your license denied because of a crime you did not commit or a debt to the state that is not your debt;
- The IRS may contact you about failure to report earnings that are not yours;
- You may discover that additional earnings have been reported on your Social Security account.
What should I do if I think that I may be a victim of identity theft?
Act quickly to stop any further abuse and use of your identity!
- Contact creditors by phone and in writing to report the fraud;
- Contact your bank right away to report the fraud;
- Close accounts that you know or believe may have been tampered with or opened fraudulently;
- Notify your phone service of the fraud;
- File a police report;
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports;
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission;
- Check to see if someone has been using your Social Security number fraudulently and report a fraudulent use of your Social Security number to Social Security Administration;
- Report any fraudulent use of your Social Security number to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS);
- Report concerns of mail theft to your local Postmaster.
What is a fraud alert?
- A fraud alert is a request to the credit reporting agencies that they include a "Fraud Alert" on your credit report information stating that you may be a victim of identity theft;
- This alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures, like asking for more information than usual or contacting you directly, before opening new accounts or making changes to your existing accounts;
- An initial alert stays on your account for 90 days;
- An extended alert stays on your account for 7 years. To be able to place an extended alert, you have to be able to prove that you have been a victim of identity theft and fill out an "identity theft report," which is a police report with more than the usual information.
How do I place a fraud alert on my credit reports?
You can place a fraud alert by contacting any one of the three credit reporting companies. Once you file a report with one of the companies, that company will pass the information on to the other two.
Experian 1-888- 397-3742,
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each reporting company once you file a fraud alert.
How do I close accounts that I know or believe may have been tampered with or opened without my permission?
- Call each company and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of the company.
- Follow up in writing, including copies of documents that support your claim. Make sure that you are sending your mail to the correct address and department. Send your letters by certified mail with return receipt, so that you know who received your letter and when.
- If there have been fraudulent charges or the account has been opened fraudulently, ask the company for their forms to dispute those charges. You should also ask for the transaction records related to the identity theft, such as the credit application for any fraudulently opened account.
How do I file a police report?
- Contact your local police department (or sheriff's office) using their non-emergency number. Ask to file a report.
- Get a copy of the police report so that you can provide it to creditors.
- If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a "Miscellaneous Incidents" report. You can also check with the Iowa Attorney General's office.
How do I file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission?
- By calling 1-877-438-4338 or online at www.ftc.gov
- The Federal Trade Commission uses this information to help stop identity thieves across the country. They can also refer your case to other agencies and companies for further action.
How does identity theft happen?
- Dumpster diving - Thieves look through trash to find papers or bills with your personal information on it;
- Stealing - Thieves steal wallets and purses or mail. They may also steal personnel records from their employers;
- Hacking - Thieves may hack into your email or other online accounts to get at your personal information;
- Skimming - Thieves steal credit card or debit card information by using a special device when they process your card for a purchase;
- Allowing family, friends, acquaintances or companies access to your Social Security number, financial and personal information.
How do I protect myself from identity theft?
- Don't give out your Social Security number unless absolutely necessary;
- Never give your Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number, or other personal information over the phone, through mail, or Internet unless you made the contact or know who you are dealing with;
- Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet;
- Don't give unnecessary personal information to companies or agencies;
- When you get a privacy notice about sharing personal information, follow up by telling companies to not share or sell your information;
- Use new passwords and PINs when you open new accounts. Make sure that they are not numbers that are easy to guess or find out, such as the last 4 numbers of your Social Security number, your birth date, your phone number, or a series of consecutive digits;
- Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you put them in the trash.
- Check your credit report regularly. You are entitled to one free report every year from each reporting company. You can go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. Take action if there are accounts that you don't recognize or credit inquires that you didn't ask for;
- Don't click on links in unsolicited emails. Instead, type in a known web address;
- Keep your personal information at home in a secure place.
Where can I go to find out more?
Contact the Iowa Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division to request "A Guide for Victims of Identity Theft". This contains additional information as well as contact information for reporting the fraud to various agencies. Phone: (515) 281-5926 or toll free 1-888-777-4590.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal agency that is in charge of consumer protection. You can visit their website at www.ftc.gov or www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Contact Iowa Legal Aid. Providing help to low-income Iowans with problems including consumer issues is a priority for Iowa Legal Aid. Call 1-800-532-1275 (se habla español) if you need assistance. Information on consumer problems is also available at iowalegalaid.org.