What steps can I take if I think my identity has been stolen?

If you believe that you have been the victim of identity theft you should:

1. Contact one of the three consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. An initial fraud alert directs creditors to use "reasonable policies and procedures" to verify your identity before they issue or extend credit in your name. You need only contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place the alert on their version of your credit report as well. Once you place an initial fraud alert, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three consumer reporting companies. In certain circumstances, you may be able to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.

Additionally, under Massachusetts law, you may place a "security freeze" on your consumer report. A security freeze prohibits the credit reporting company from releasing the consumer's credit report or any information without express authorization of the consumer. For further information on security freezes, refer to Chapter 82 of the Acts of 2007.

Here are the three consumer reporting companies and their websites:

Consumer Reporting Companies

2. Close any accounts that you know or believe to have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

3. File a police report. Keep a copy of the report for your records as evidence for creditors that may require proof of the crime.

4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases that is used by law enforcement officials nationwide to track down identity thieves.

What can I do to protect my personal information from identity thieves?

Identity thieves have many avenues available to them for obtaining your personal information. However, there are a number of precautions you can take to minimize your risk. Here are a few:

1. Order a copy of your credit report and check it closely for accuracy. Massachusetts residents are entitled to a free copy of their credit report from each of the three consumer reporting companies once during any 12-month period.

2. Keep important personal information, such as Social Security cards and birth certificates, in a secure place in your home. Do not carry them with you in your purse or wallet.

3. Review all credit card and bank statements carefully each month to discover any unusual activity or unauthorized charges.

4. Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the interaction or know for certain whom you are dealing with.

5. Change your driver's license number from you Social Security number to a randomly assigned number.

Where can I obtain more information about identity theft?

For more information about what you can do to protect yourself from identity theft, visit the FTC website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/. The FTC has been designated as the central repository for identity theft complaints. There is a wealth of information available on the FTC website about identity theft and the steps to take if you are a victim. The FTC's publication Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft , available at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheft.htm, contains information on how to resolve specific identity theft problems and the contact information for various government agencies that can assist you.

Information also is available from the following Massachusetts state agencies:

The website of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles contains information related to the Driver Privacy Protection Act, which regulates the disclosure and use of certain information from motor vehicle records.