Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account information, to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft can take many forms and can leave your finances in disarray.
How to ID thieves get your information?
- Going through your mailbox or trash.
- Stealing your wallet or purse.
- Scamming you into revealing personal information.
- By pretending to be a representative from your place of work, your bank, or even a government agency.
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What should you do if your identity is stolen?
If you are a victim of identity theft or believe that you may be a victim:
- Immediately change debit/credit card PINs. If your credit/debit card numbers were compromised, thieves and scammers may try to empty bank accounts or make fraudulent purchases using the obtained data.
- Obtain copies of your credit reports.You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus but consumers who are victims of identity theft or suspect they could be should obtain one immediately and consider frequent monitoring of their reports.
- Dispute any unauthorized transactions. You will need to write a letter to the credit bureau formally disputing these accounts. The credit bureau will have 30 days to investigate and remove any erroneous or unverified information.
- You should also review your credit report for companies that have inquired about your credit without your approval. Ask the credit bureau to remove inquiries that are the result of fraud. Too many inquiries on your credit report within a short period of time may result in your denial of credit.
- Notify creditors, such as credit card companies, banks, and mortgage lenders. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- File a police report and obtain a copy for your records (police are required to take a report pursuant to MGL Chapter 93H).
- File a complaint with/report the situation to the Federal Trade Commission and Attorney General’s Office.
- Write downs the names of anyone you spoke with, what was said, and the date of the conversation.
- Keep the originals of supporting documentation, like police reports and letters to and from creditors. Send copies only.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports
Call the fraud departments of the three major credit reporting agencies listed below.
Request that your credit report be flagged with a fraud alert and add to your report a statement that you are a victim of fraud and that all creditors should contact you at a phone number you provide to verify all future applications. Each of the major credit bureaus may have different procedures, so ask each one how long the fraud alert will remain on your report and the circumstances under which that period may be extended. You should also request a written copy of your report to review and verify that each piece of credit information is valid.
Placing a fraud alert may not necessarily prevent the fraud from resuming. Some creditors may not see these alerts if they do not obtain your full consumer report, but rather rely on a credit score or another automated credit application system.
Place a security freeze
Federal law allows consumers to place and lift a security freeze on their credit reports for free. A security freeze prohibits a credit reporting agency from releasing any information from a consumers' credit report without written authorization. Note: placing a security freeze on your credit report may delay, interfere with, or prevent the timely approval of any requests you make for new loans, credit, mortgages, employment, housing or other services.
Freezing a minor's credit file:
Federal law also now allows parents, guardians, and representatives acting on behalf of a young person in foster care, to freeze a minor child's credit report. In this instance, a minor is someone 16 years old or younger.
If the child does not have a credit report (many will not given their age), parents and guardians may request that the credit reporting agency create a credit report for the child in order to freeze it.
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Report the crime
Filing a police report is a first step. But you should also be sure to report the identity theft to other law enforcement/governmental agencies.
Local Police Department: If there is unexplained activity on your credit report, place an extended fraud alert on your credit report. In order to do this, you need to file a report with your local police department, keep a copy for yourself, and provide a copy to one of the three major credit bureaus.
Secret Service: The Financial Crimes Division is charged with investigating crimes associated with financial institutions. Typically, it will track complaints in an effort to discover crime rings, but will not investigate individual complaints. You can contact the Massachusetts Regional Office at 10 Causeway Street, Boston, MA 02222-1080, 617-565-5640.
U.S. Postal Inspector : Postal Inspectors may have jurisdiction over your case if the identity thief has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud.
If you can determine where the fraudulent credit cards or checks were sent, contact the local Postmaster for that address and to file a complaint. Be sure to request that change of address forms submitted on your behalf not be accepted.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation: The FBI may also investigate some crimes. Typically, the FBI focuses on fraud rings engaged in conspiracies to defraud financial institutions. You can contact the Massachusetts Regional Office at 201 Maple St. Chelsea, MA 02150, (857) 386-2000. You can also file a report on their Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Social Security Administration: To report the fraudulent use of your Social Security number, you should contact the Office of the Inspector General's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271 and follow up in writing. Ask if you are eligible to change your Social Security number. The Social Security Administration, however, cannot help individuals fix personal records at credit bureaus, credit card companies, or banks.
Are there any state laws about identity theft?
Massachusetts’ identity theft law requires businesses and others that own or license personal information of residents of Massachusetts to notify the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and the Office of Attorney General when they know or have reason to know of a breach of security. The law also requires that the breached entity notify consumers of any breach of their personal information that creates a substantial risk of identity theft or fraud as soon as practicable and without unreasonable delay after a breach occurs, except when a law enforcement agency determines that notice may impede a criminal investigation.
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What information does the notification include?
- the date or approximate date of the breach
- steps that have been taken or are planned to deal with the breach
- consumers' right to obtain a police report
- instructions for requesting a credit report security freeze