Home > Publications > Non-Technical > Identity Theft

Identity Theft

Identity theft is a serious crime that is affecting millions of people each year. The term “Identity Theft” refers to a situation where a person steals and uses another’s personal information to become that person. Identity thieves can obtain an individual’s personal information from virtually anywhere (trash cans, businesses, online accounts, etc). Identity thieves use that personal information to purchase virtually anything (car, house, vacations), open bank accounts in another’s name, drain their savings, receive medical treatment or procedures, and even collect benefits (social security or retirement checks).

When people are not diligent with protecting their personal information it can take months before they realize their identity has been stolen. Identity thieves could live in a different state or country. They may or may not know the victim. They don’t have to stand out and can even appear as an average person. Victims start inquiring about the problems when they receive statements, bills, e-mails, or telephone calls asking for payments for services they have never received. Identity thieves may even contact victims via telephone or e-mail requesting to verify personal information.

Identifying an identity thief is difficult because that thief can be anyone that works for a company that uses personal information (retail stores, restaurants, banks, hospitals, government facilities, etc). Many states have laws that prosecute identity thieves; see if your state is on the list. Using preventive measures can deter identity thieves from stealing your identity.

Use these best practices as a guide to prevent from being a victim of identity theft:

  1. Buy a crosscut shredder and shred all papers that contain personal or financial information (loan applications, credit card offers, etc). If a retailer uses carbon copies for credit card transactions ask for and destroy the carbons.
  2. Order a copy of your credit report every year and verify no discrepancies exist. NJ Residents are entitled to a free credit report
  3. If you are going away for a long period of time have the post office hold your mail. If your mail is not in secured location (locked mailbox) remove it immediately.
  4. Know where your personal information is kept (safe, file drawer) and who has access to it.
  5. Never leave your wallet or purse unattended.
  6. Be aware of your surroundings when using ATM cards, making credit card purchases, using telephone credit card numbers and utilizing pin numbers or passwords. (cover your pin when entering it)
  7. Review your bills, bank statements, credit card statements and other financial accounts, to ensure that all balances and receipts match and no activity is unaccounted for.
  8. If you use a computer, install virus protection and firewall software to discourage hackers. Don’t send personal information over an unsecure website (http) it could be viewed by others.
  9. Destroy the computer’s hard drives, zip-drives, floppy disks, compact disks, or any other electronic device which may contain personal information before disposing of them.
  10. Request your financial institutions to add security to your accounts, such as a special password or a security question for verification purposes.
  11. Do not give out personal or financial information in response to offers by mail, phone, internet, or in person. Identity thieves continually pose as legitimate business people, charity workers, or law enforcement to gain your trust.
  12. Do not fill out personal information on warranty cards and sweepstakes entries; it is often sold to others as a marketing tool.
  13. Do not provide personal information to businesses unless you contacted them.
Becoming a victim of identity theft is difficult to comprehend because everything you have worked for falls apart before your eyes. Once you become a victim proving your true identity can be a difficult task.

Steps to take if you are a victim:

  1. File a police report with local law enforcement officials because most credit and financial institutions will require that you have one. View NJ's State Police Identity Theft Guide for more detailed information
  2. Notify your creditors and financial institutions that your identity has been stolen.
  3. Close any accounts (credit cards, bank, online, etc.) that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
  4. Request a copy of your credit report and place a “Fraud Alert Flag” on your credit accounts.
  5. Check for recent address changes at your local Post Office and notify them of your identity theft
  6. Report your theft to the Federal Trade Commission, online, by phone, or by mail.
Remember to always keep detailed records, copies of documents, and phone numbers of personnel you spoke to leading up to and resolving your identity theft. This information can be used for verification if future problems occur. Your identity is your life, protect it.