Identity theft is a serious crime that strikes nearly 10 million consumers annually. Identity theft victims can spend months and sometimes years and thousands of dollars in an effort to undo the damage thieves have done to their good name and credit record. Identity theft may pose long-term consequences for those victimized, including lost job opportunities, loan refusals for education, housing, or cars, and even arrests for crimes they didn't commit. Victims experience humiliation, anger, and frustration as they strive to recover their identity.


What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a crime of fraud where an imposter pretends to be someone else in order to steal money or get other benefits.

It occurs when someone steals your personal information-e.g., credit card or Social Security number-and uses it fraudulently

  • It can cost you time and money
  • It can destroy your credit and ruin your good name


What are the types of identity theft?

  • Financial -using another's identity to obtain goods and services
  • Criminal -posing as another when apprehended for a crime
  • Identity Cloning -using another's information to assume his or her identity in real life
  • Business/Commercial-using another's business name to obtain credit


How does it happen?

Criminals obtain your personal information by:

  • Getting information directly from you
  • Use "phishing" or fake emails to get you to provide personal information
  • Stealing your wallet or purse
  • Intercepting your mail
  • Searching your trash
  • Accessing your employer's files
  • Retrieving information from old equipment
  • Researching registers and searching the internet


What are some signs of identity theft?

  • Missing mail
  • Suspicious transactions
  • Strange calls
  • New credit cards mail or bills that don't arrive
  • Denials of credit for no reason


How can I protect myself?

  • Don't give out personal information unless you're sure who you are dealing with
  • Protect your Social Security number-don't carry your card in your wallet; give it out only when absolutely necessary-ask to use another personal identifier
  • Leave out personal information on your checks
  • Sign the back of your credit cards and debit cards
  • Keep your credit card receipts and check your statements
  • Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately
  • Cancel and destroy all unused cards
  • Don't use obvious passwords such as your date of birth, your mother's maiden name, names of your pets or children, or the last 4 digits of your Social Security number
  • Keep your information secure particularly if there are other people in your house-roommates or anyone performing work in your house
  • Shred all financial documents and papers with personal information
  • Routinely monitor your financial accounts and billing statements
  • Review your credit reports.


What should I do if I suspect my identity has been stolen?

  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by calling at least one of the three consumer reporting companies to tell creditors to follow certain procedures before opening new accounts in your name or make certain changes to your existing accounts.
  • Close your accounts by calling the security or fraud department of each company where you have an open account or where an account was changed without your permission. Be sure to follow up in writing with copies of any supporting documentation.
  • The Federal Trade Commission has an " ID Theft Affidavit" to support your written statement.
  • Request written verification that your account has been closed and any fraudulent debt has been discharged.


How do I request my credit report?

Your credit reports contain information about you, your accounts, and your bill-paying history. You are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major consumer reporting companies each year. You can request your report online at AnnualCreditReport.com, the only authorized site to request these reports for free each year.

You can also request reports by phone at 1-877-322-8228 or by mail at Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.


How do I report identity theft?

To report possible identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission.
 

  • Online: www.ftc.gov/idtheft

  • By telephone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338)

  • By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse
    Federal Trade Commission
    600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20580


Other resources

Credit Reporting Agencies

 

Better Business Bureau of Central and Western Massachusetts
1-866-566-9222

Attorney General's Public Inquiry and Assistance Hotline for Consumer Complaints
1-617-727-8400