Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal or financial information without your permission. It can damage your credit status and cost you time and money.
Warning signs of identity theft
You may not know that you experienced ID theft immediately. Beware of:
- Bills for items you did not buy. Debt collection calls for accounts you did not open.
- Information on your credit report for accounts you did not open. Denials of loan applications.
- Mail stops coming to, or is missing from, your mailbox.
How identity theft happens
There are several ways that scammers can steal your identity, including in person, online, through social media, and by phone. Scammers may:
Steal your wallet or purse to get ID, credit, or bank cards. Go through your trash to retrieve bank statements or tax documents. Install skimmers at ATM machines, cash registers, and fuel pumps to digitally steal information from your bank card. Get personal information from your phone when you use public Wi-Fi. Use “phishing” to get information from you through fraudulent email, texts, or phone calls. Look through your social media accounts to find identifying information in posts or photos. Or they may ask you for personal information in online quizzes and surveys.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
Do not answer phone calls, texts, social media messages, or email from numbers or people you do not know. Do not share personal information like your bank account number, Social Security number, or date of birth. Collect your mail every day and place a hold on your mail when you are on vacation or away from your home. Review credit card and bank account statements. Watch for and report unauthorized or suspicious transactions. Understand how ATM skimming works and how to protect yourself. Learn when it is safe to use a public Wi-Fi network. Store personal information, including your Social Security card, in a safe place. Do not carry it in your wallet. Learn other ways to protect yourself and your credit from ID theft. And find out how to protect your child’s information from identity theft.
Criminals use many techniques to try to trick you into giving them personal information, including:
Phishing: criminals trick you into giving them information, often through email
Vishing: phishing by phone
Smishing: phishing by text
Spear phishing: targeted form of phishing in which criminals try to trick groups of people that have something in common.
Pharming: criminals trick you by setting up fake websites that appear legitimate.
Skimming: criminals steal your credit or debit card number
Know and Exercise Your Other Rights
You have other federal rights related to identity theft. See IdentityTheft.gov for more details. In many states, businesses or organizations that lose or misplace certain types of personal information must tell you if that has happened. To learn more, go to USA.gov and search for “data breach your-state-name” (for example, if you lived in Texas, type “data breach Texas”)