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Preventing Identity Theft

Millions of Americans fall victim to identity theft each year -- and their financial losses are in the billions. In 2012, an estimated 16.6 million Americans experienced identity theft, causing losses of $24.7 billion.1

What can you do to help reduce your chances of having your identity stolen? The steps below can help you prevent significant losses.


  • Check your credit reports every year. You have the right to obtain a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Check thoroughly to ensure that there aren't any unidentified accounts on your report.
  • Place a freeze on your credit reports. This can help stop an identity thief from opening a credit card account under your name. You simply contact the three credit bureaus and request a credit freeze. This prevents lenders who don't already have a relationship with you from viewing your credit report. If they can't access your credit report, they won't issue a new account. There is often a fee to request a freeze, depending on your state of residence and whether you've ever been the victim of identity theft in the past.
  • Monitor your email. You want to be on the lookout for phishing scams, particularly those that appear to come from a credit card company, bank, retailer, or anyone else you do business with. Many of these emails will direct you to a phony website that will ask you to input sensitive data, such as your account numbers, passwords, and Social Security number.
  • Be careful online. When banking or shopping online, be sure to use websites that protect your financial information with encryption, particularly if you are using a public wireless network via a smartphone. Sites that are encrypted start with "https." The "s" stands for secure. Also be sure to use anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

What do you do if your identity is stolen? First, call one of the three credit bureaus and ask them to place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report. They must contact the other two bureaus to place fraud alerts on your reports. You also want to get a copy of all three credit reports.

Second, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You'll create an FTC Affidavit, which you should then take to your local police department and file a police report. Your copy of the FTC Affidavit and the police report make up an Identity Theft Report, which can help you:


  • Get fraudulent information removed from your credit report.
  • Stop companies from collecting debts caused by the theft.
  • Get information about accounts that were illegally opened in your name. 

1Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2013 (latest available).

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