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Home > Consumer Information > Personal Finance Topics > Credit Awareness > Consumer Credit Bill of Rights > Identity Theft
Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is identity theft? Answer
2. What information do identity thieves want? Answer
3. How do thieves steal your identity? Answer
4. What do identity thieves do with the information they gather? Answer
5. How can you protect your identity? Answer
6. What should you do if you think you are a victim of identity theft? Answer
1. What is identity theft?

Identity theft is the fraudulent use of your name and identifying data and occurs when your personal information is stolen and used for someone else's financial gain. Thieves will use your identity to open bank accounts and to obtain credit, merchandise or services. Victims often are left with ruined credit.

The federal government reports that identity theft is now the fastest-growing financial crime. Nearly ten million Americans were victimized last year, resulting in $5 billion in individual losses and $45 billion in corporate and banking losses.


2. What information do identity thieves want?

Identity thieves want your full name, social security number, and date of birth. Then, they want bank and credit card numbers and expiration dates, any financial records they can find, and even the credit card offers you receive in the mail.


3. How do thieves steal your identity?

Some examples:

  • Thieves retrieve credit card receipts, bank statements, and bills from your wallets and purses and also from your garbage.
  • They steal from your mailbox and even complete change of address forms to divert your mail to another location.
  • Thieves send you phony e-mail notices that claim to be from your bank, credit card company or a merchant and ask for your account information to solve a supposed problem. This scam is called "phishing."
  • Unscrupulous telemarketers will convince you to give them personal information over the telephone.
    Criminals will "shoulder surf" - look over your shoulder as you enter your PIN number at an ATM machine.


4. What do identity thieves do with the information they gather?

Some examples:

  • Thieves use your identity to empty your bank accounts and to charge expensive items on your credit cards.
  • They will open new bank accounts, credit card and store accounts and apply for loans using your name and credit history.
  • They will print checks using your information and use them to go on a spending spree.
  • They will establish phone and wireless services in your name.

5. How can you protect your identity?

Some examples:

Keep a list of all your account numbers including your credit card numbers and expiration dates as well as the phone numbers of your creditors.
Do NOT reply to e-mail notices, even if official-looking, that request personal or account information. Instead, call the company or go to their Web site if you know the correct Internet address.
Do NOT give out your social security number for identity purposes, and do not carry it in your wallet.
Do NOT carry extra credit cards in your wallet.
Do NOT carry your birth certificate or passport with you unless you are traveling and it is needed for identification.
Give NO personal information over the phone to telemarketers. If you wish to purchase something or to donate to a charity, ask them to send you a bill.
Do NOT give your credit card information to companies over the phone unless you initiated the call and have a trusted relationship with the company you have called.
When purchasing items over the Internet, give out your credit card number only after you have absolutely ensured that the Web site is a valid and secure one and is from a company you trust. Review the company's Privacy Statement site to determine how they use information about you.
If your wallet, credit cards or checks are stolen, cancel your accounts. When ordering new checks from your bank, pick them up rather than having them mailed to you.
Carefully review your bank statements and bills for accuracy and contact your creditors if your usual bills do not arrive on time.
When creating passwords and PINs, do not use the last four digits of your SS number, your birth date, middle name, mother's maiden name or anything that can be easily traced to you. Do not record those numbers on anything in your wallet.
Shred anything that has personal identification information on it including credit card or ATM receipts. Be sure to shred pre-approved credit offers that come in the mail.
Shield your ATM or telephone key pad when using an ATM or making a phone call with your phone calling card. Some shoulder surfers' use binoculars or video cameras to record your numbers.


6. What should you do if you think you are a victim of identity theft?

Step 1. Contact your local law enforcement agency (and retain a copy of any filed report).
Step 2. Contact your credit card companies, banks, investment companies, licensing agencies, etc.
Step 3.

Call the three major credit agency Fraud Hotlines:

    • Equifax - 1-800-525-6285
    • Experian - 1-888-397-3742
    • TransUnion - 1-800-680-7289
Step 4.

Call the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Hotline to obtain its ID Theft Affidavit at 1-877-438-4338.

  • Or, send an electronic complaint to the FTC (The information you provide is up to you. However, if you do not provide your name or other information, it may be impossible for the FTC to refer, respond to, or investigate your complaint or request.)
Step 5. If you have further questions, contact the NJ Division of Banking at 609-292-7272.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The FTC serves as the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. However, the FTC does not resolve individual consumer problems. Your complaint helps the federal government investigate fraud, and may lead to law enforcement action.
Additional Resources
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