What is identity theft?

Identity theft is the unauthorized use of someone’s personal information (e.g. social security number, bank account information, and credit and debit card numbers) usually for the purpose of financial gain.  Identity theft is a serious crime that can be costly and also cause serious damage to a person’s credit history.

How do criminals steal your identity?
Criminals are working diligently everyday to formulate new ways to steal people’s personal information.  There is a sheer abundance of ways that criminals try to scam individuals.  Just to name a few, scammers may try to steal your information through phone calls, letters, e-mail, and internet job postings.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, it’s also important to note that criminals may also play on your emotions to gain access to your personal information.  Be cautious and do research to know that you’re donating to a reputable charity.  It’s important to know the scams in order to stay ahead of them.  To view an extensive and up-to-date list of scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Scam Alerts website at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.
If your personal information is stolen, what can criminals do with that information? 
Criminals can use personal information to open credit accounts and rack up charges, drain bank accounts, and file taxes to receive fraudulent tax refunds.  Criminals may even use your identity to receive medical services.
How can you protect yourself from being a victim of identity theft?  
Even people that understand identity theft and the importance of protecting personal information can fall victim to identity theft.  Take these steps to help protect yourself:
  • Protect your important papers by locking them in a safe place and shredding documents that include personal identifying information
  • Keep your Social Security Number, bank account information, etc. secure and never give out to anyone unless you initiate the contact
  • Be aware of online scams and impersonators
  • Protect your computers and mobile devices by making sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date and by not clicking on links or downloading files sent by someone unknown to you
What should I do if I have been a victim of identity theft? 
If you believe that you may be a victim of identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov, the FTC’s online resource to assist identity theft victims through the recovery process.  This site provides easy-to-use checklists and sample letters.  In most cases your first step will be to contact your financial institution.