ITRC Fact Sheet 107
Requests Victims May Make of the Court
In an attempt to make you whole again: legally and financially

This guide covers:

Most identity theft cases do not result in the perpetrator being arrested and convicted. In many ways, these cases are in uncharted territory. Oftentimes, there is no one to turn to, no one to ask about procedures or to help guide you through the legal maze. It is important to communicate with the district attorney assigned to your case.

Along with the district attorney, you need to put a face to this crime, to show it in living color. It is your responsibility to educate the judge about your needs and how this crime affected your life, from the time of discovery to that day in court.

Most of these requests (listed below) will be made during the Sentencing Phase of your case. Please note: a judge may or may not listen. The judge has the final word. However, if you don’t try, you’ll never know if the judge agrees with you.

You might also refer to our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 106 - Organizing Your Identity Theft Case.


Many District Attorney Offices have a victim assistance program. Ask to speak to a victim assistance counselor to help you prepare yourself for the various stages of the prosecution, hearings, requests for restitution, probation interviews, hearings, etc. Each court and jurisdiction is different and often the district attorney doesn’t have time to help you. You can also read through the basic process in ITRC Fact Sheet FS 109 - The Court Experience.

Make sure that you get all the pamphlets and procedures in writing so that you understand what is expected of you as a victim and witness. Keep a very detailed file of the information since this process may go on for many months. 


Restitution is paid to the victim(s) when the court orders the defendant to pay a certain amount of money to his or her victims to reimburse them for their losses. While some judges are reluctant to order restitution, they are required to listen to your request and will usually consider reasonable and unavoidable costs.

We suggest that you write a letter asking for restitution. You may use ITRC Fact Sheet FS 111 - Victim Impact Statements.

Clearly explain:

  • What happened to you as a victim; a summary of the case.
  • The impact financially, emotionally and physically.
  • The actual losses- out-of-pocket expenses, hourly wages lost, doctor and therapy bills, etc. You may want to use ITRC Fact Sheet FS 106 as a guide for this section.

In all cases, you must keep receipts of legitimate costs. You should also keep a detailed log of all time spent on clearing your name (time spent, what you were working on, who you called, etc.). You should also try to estimate projected future costs, anticipating reasonable expenses you will incur in clearing your case.

We also recommend that you look at our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 109 - The Court Experience and ITRC Fact Sheet FS 111 - Victim Impact Statements to see examples of how to add requests to your statement. Do not present a long laundry list to the judge. Be selective in what you request and be brief in your presentation. Remember, be respectful of the judge’s time and be courteous.

The judge has the discretion to determine which, if any, items will be considered for restitution. However here are some suggested items for inclusion:

  • Travel
  • Notarizing
  • Postage- to mail letters pertaining to your case to credit bureaus, credit card companies, banks, merchants, loan officers, etc. This really adds up, since many the letters are mailed “return receipt requested.”
  • Phone calls – track who you talked with and why. Make a photocopy of your phone bill and keep that in a file.
  • Document photocopying
  • Fingerprinting fees
  • Costs incurred to replace identifying documents – for instance, to the Department of Motor Vehicles for a new driver’s license.
  • Legal and private investigator fees – only if you can prove that you had no choice in your attempt to clear your name
  • Business supplies – be careful to limit these costs to items used exclusively in your identity theft case. Your new computer will not impress the judge nor will any supplies that can be used for other activities.
  • Time lost. This is a touchy category for many judges. However, if you can clearly show loss they might consider it. Your log will come in handy here. Include time loss from work to clear your name and time you needed to spend in court as a witness.
  • Doctor’s bills and costs for prescription incurred only because of this crime.
  • Psychological counseling - In many cases, the imposters truly do not understand how they harm you, your children, and others. After all, they were only “borrowing” your identity. This crime has significant impact upon victims, and as a victim, you should not be afraid to request professional counseling.
  • Lost application fees if turned down for loans or credit because of this crime.
  • The future cost of credit monitoring services


For a period of time after the initial victimization, you are entitled to get your credit reports without cost to clean up the credit mess and monitor the new inquiries. That varies depending on state laws and credit reporting agency policies. After that time, be sure to continue to keep an eye on your reports, checking them once every few months.

Identity theft criminals tend to be repeat offenders. Victims often say that while their perpetrators got off with 3 years of probation, they are servicing a life sentence. It is true that victims live with the fact that the imposter may reuse the information at any time. They might also sell it repeatedly for others to use.

So, the question arises, how do you monitor your credit reports as effectively as possible? Some people prefer to subscribe to a Credit Monitoring Service. There are several currently in the United States. We recommend the ANNUAL CREDIT REPORT PROGRAM - a free program provided by federal law. If you call 877-322-8228, you can order one credit report from each of the three bureaus every 12 months. By staggering your requests you can keep an eye on your credit for FREE.

In many states, victims may freeze their credit reports to prevent unwanted credit issuers from viewing them. For more information on this process, please see our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 124 - Credit Freeze and Fraud Alerts. Also, please check our State Resources to see if your state has laws regarding fraud and credit freezes.


These new services go beyond traditional credit monitoring by including additional areas where fraudulent activity may be indicated. In some cases, these may be more proactive in alerting you to fraudulent activity in real time. Each service is slightly different. Additional areas may include:

  • monitoring for items such as address changes
  • identifying unusual personal activity (such as applying for several lines of credit with auto dealers in the same week)
  • scanning the Internet for exposed account information
  • screening for other items that may indicate something is awry.

Some companies calculate identity risk by looking for any suspicious or unusual relationships among billions of basic identity elements. Others include credit monitoring and some of the additional items mentioned above. Look for a service that notifies you quickly of any developing problem. 


If the imposter has used your name as an alias while committing a crime or if you have difficulties proving you are you -- one of the tools you can request from the courts is a “Letter of Clearance”. It is known by various names so ask the district attorney or sheriff in your area for the precise title. Essentially, this is an official document from the court establishing your that you were a victim of identity theft.

You will need to carry this form with you for years to come so make numerous copies of it. We also suggest you give a copy of it to a family member or close friend in the event you misplace the copy you carry on your person and you need it in an emergency. This document will save you countless embarrassing moments and potential visits to the local jail.

If you are a victim of this type of “criminal identity theft,” please read ITRC Fact Sheet FS 110.


  • That all documents containing your personal data currently in the possession of the imposter shall be returned to you or that you receive written notice from the court that either the court or law enforcement has possession of them and that they were properly destroyed. You have the right to make sure the imposter does not just throw them in the trash, making them available for dumpster divers to take.
  • Anti-theft counseling or psychological counseling– we know that ID thieves are often repeat offenders. Once they learn how easy it is to steal an identity, the temptation may be more than they can fight. Other circumstances in their lives may lead them to committing identity theft and can benefit from counseling.
  • Regular review hearings/probation – ITRC believes this is one of the most important tools we have. Most often ID thieves just receive probation. With probation officers handling an abundance of cases, Review Hearings become a way for the courts to regularly check in on the probation and make sure the imposter is following all court mandates.
  • We recommend you request that a review hearing occur 6 months after sentencing.
  • That the imposter may never, from this day forth, have any personal information about you in their possession—electronically or on paper.
  • That the imposter must give written letter to anyone that they may be collecting personal data from that he/she is a convicted felon of (penal code—i.e., false personation). This letter serves as warning to potential victims. If they choose to ignore it, at least you have made sure that they were warned.

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

ITRC Fact Sheet 105
Effective Communications: Making Allies and Getting Results
A Tool for Identity Theft Victims

This guide covers the following topics:

Over the years, the ITRC has developed strong, working relationships with law enforcement, governmental agencies and businesses. In doing so, we have drawn upon some well-documented laws of effective communication. They aren’t difficult, and anyone can use them effectively.


Organize your thoughts prior to any conversation. Identity theft cases can be complicated. ITRC Fact Sheet FS 112 - Enhancing Identity Theft Victim and Investigator Communications will help you to be succinct and focused. Write down what points you want to cover and what you want to accomplish.

  • Prioritize your goals. If you have more than one, limit the issues so that you don’t dilute your efforts. Make sure your listener understands that you have several issues and the order of their importance. Otherwise, they may deal with the little, easy-to-fix items and ignore the bigger ones.
  • Have a fallback position. You may not always get exactly what they want. What will you settle for? What is your bottom line? You don’t need to reveal it to the listener; just keep it in mind as he or she offers possible resolutions to your problem.
  • Analyze your listener’s priorities and situation. What resistances, limitations or predispositions might they have? What will they need to hear from you to conclude that what you are saying is true?
  • Speak only with decision makers. If the person you are speaking with cannot help, respectfully ask for someone who can. 


Anger never works; people stop listening. You want to engage this person and convert him or her into an ally. If you are angry, delay your call until you can redirect your anger into positive, calm and effective communication. Be someone who acknowledges any attempt to help you. A “thank you” goes a long ways toward winning allies.

  • A conversation that just blows off steam only causes resentment and alienates your listener. This will also hurt future relationships with that person.
  • Only share what they need to know to solve your problem. People will likely stop listening and be less helpful if you talk about things not directly related to your issue.
  • Try to anticipate what the person will need from you and have it ready.
  • Allow the person you are speaking an opportunity to answer a question that you ask. This ensures that you are actually getting answers to your questions and that you do not interrupt them with another question or observation, which may irritate them and make them less helpful.
  • If you ask a question, don’t accept an answer that doesn’t answer the question, or that is an answer you don’t understand. Acknowledge their answer (confirming you heard them), then ask your question again. For example:

You - “I have a problem. You are trying to collect money on an account I never opened. How do I remove my name from an account opened fraudulently in my name?”
Them - “We just want to know how soon you plan to pay up.”
You - “I understand that you normally deal with people who haven’t paid their bills. My case is different. This is a case of identity theft. I didn’t open this account. How do I remove my name from this account?”


  • Develop a relationship. Be respectful. Try to work with whoever is helping you and allow them to understand what you are dealing with. For example, when speaking with a credit issuer representative you can say, “The collection agency said that your company has to clear me. I spoke with one of your customer-service reps, and she said the collection agency has to do it. I’m caught in the middle here. I didn’t open the account and I can’t find the right person to help me. Can you help me sort out this mess?”
  • Don’t be an obstructionist. A conversation isn’t a conversation without an exchange of information and cooperation from both parties.
  • Recognize the limitations of the situation. In most cases of identity theft, determining who the criminal is and having that person arrested is unlikely. Be realistic in setting your goals by sticking to clearing the fraudulent accounts and restoring your identity first and worrying about the criminal after.


This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 ITRC Fact Sheet 104
My Wallet, Purse or PDA was Lost or Stolen - Now what?

This guide covers the following:

While a lost or stolen wallet or PDA may simply mean the loss of your cash and credit cards, it may also be the beginning of an identity theft case. Hope for the best while taking steps to reduce your risk of identity theft. The return of the item does not guarantee that cards were not copied, so you need to proceed as if the items were stolen.
This guide will serve as a starting point of what to do and whom to call. If the situation evolves into identity theft, please refer to our other self-help guides or contact our office toll-free at 888-400-5530.

What was in your wallet and/or purse?

The following is a list of items that may be in your wallet or purse that can lead to identity theft or other forms of fraud if stolen.

  • Your Social Security card
  • Military ID card
  • Medicare or MediCal card 
  • Social Security cards (or numbers) for any other family members, i.e. spouse, children
  • Social Security number (SSN) printed on any card
  • Driver’s license
  • Credit cards
  • Vehicle registration papers
  • ATM/ Debit cards/ Bank cards
  • Health insurance/prescription/dental benefit card - Did it have your SSN on it?
  • Professional licenses (doctor, nurse, etc.)
  • Employee or student ID card - Did it have your SSN on it?
  • Green card or immigration papers
  • Passport
  • Any bills/statements you may have been carrying (i.e., telephone, electricity, credit card)
  • Birth certificate
  • Store club cards (supermarket, Sam’s Club, Costco)
  • AAA or other auto insurance card
  • Library card
  • Video store card - (i.e. Blockbuster)
  • Health club card - Did it have your SSN on it?
  • Discount cards or annual passes (movie, amusement parks)

What other information was on your cell phone, tablet, or laptop?

  • Any numbers or codes from the items above
  • Addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and birthdates for friends, family, or business associates (some of these could lead to identity theft)
  • Codes, passwords, authorization information
  • Company proprietary information or intellectual property

Steps to take immediately:

1. Police report: Report the crime/loss to your local law enforcement agency. Give them a list of the items it contained (see above). Request a copy of the report as you might need it later. ITRC also recommends getting the business card or name of the officer who took the report, the report number and a phone number to call if you have additional questions.

2. Credit or Fraud Alerts: Contact the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs) by telephone, listed below. Use the “Report Fraud” numbers for each CRA (refer to ITRC Solution 3). You will reach an automated system that allows you to provide your phone number. We highly recommend you include a home or cell phone number. See ITRC Fact Sheet 100Financial Identity Theft – the Beginning Steps and ITRC Fact Sheet 124 for information on placing fraud alerts.

- Equifax (800) 525-6285
- Experian (888) 397-3742
- Trans Union: (800) 680-7289
Ask for a fraud alert and your free report as a potential victim of identity theft. The CRAs are required to provide you with a complimentary credit report when you place a fraud alert. This report gives you the opportunity to check for any pending credit applications and to verify that all the current information is correct. It becomes an accurate baseline for the fraud alert and may alert you to suspicious activity.
In 2 to 3 months you should begin to use the federal annual credit report system, (for more information, see ITRC Fact Sheet 125.) If there are problems, please refer to our ITRC Fact Sheet 100 for guidance. If your SSN is being used, you may want to consider a “credit freeze” explained in ITRC Fact Sheet 124.

3. Driver’s License or State ID: If your Driver’s license or vehicle registration was taken, contact the state agency that issues driver’s licenses. Place a stolen/lost card warning on your file. At this time, request a replacement. If you discover that a thief is using your license, you can request a license number change. If your vehicle registration papers are missing, notify your state agency of this as well.
4. Credit Cards and Account Documents: If you are missing credit cards or copies of bills, contact the card issuers that issued the stolen/lost card(s). Request replacement cards with new account numbers. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit grantors to furnish copies of any fraudulent transactions for that account. Monitor your mail for collection notices, missing statements or bills. Check bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity and report any problems immediately to credit grantors.  If a problem is discovered, please refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 100.

5. Checks and Checking Account Information If you have lost checking account numbers, savings account numbers, checks, ATM cards, or debit cards, contact the bank immediately and close the account. Open a new account with a new number. Add a password on the account. It sometimes helps to go directly to the local branch and speak face-to-face with a bank manager or fraud investigator. Do not waste time explaining your case to a teller.  Please refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 126 for additional information on checking account takeover and check fraud.

To report fraudulent use of your checks:

  • ChexSystems: (800) 428-9623
  • Certegy: (800) 437-5120   or  (877) 443-7283
  • TeleCheck: (800) 710-9898
  • Checkrite/Global Payments:   (800) 638-4600

Several of these companies do provide a “consumer report.” Order reports from those that do provide them.  They should be free.

Security Alert: ChexSystems and SCAN will let you place a 90-day Security Alert on your consumer report with them.

Phone: 800-513-7125
Or: 888-4-STOLEN

6. Military ID cards: Notify the personnel support detachment (PSD) and your immediate chain of command up to the commanding officer. Apply for a new ID card. In the event that a dependent’s ID card is involved, notify your immediate supervisor, the PSD, and secure a replacement.

7. Green Card or immigration papers: Contact the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as your country’s embassy.

8. Passports: In the case of a lost or stolen passport, it is important to notify the U.S. Department of State immediately and fill out Form DS-64. In the event the passport was issued by another country, notify the issuing country’s embassy. For more information visit

9. Workplace theft: If your wallet or PDA was lost or stolen at work, notify both the HR and Security Departments. You might recommend a notice be posted warning other personnel to take additional security precautions. For example, women should not be storing wallets or purses in unlocked, desk drawers.

10. Stolen Social Security Card

Do this every year at the end of January for everybody whose card was stolen:

  • Every year, obtain a copy of your Social Security Statement from the Social Security Administration. This Statement will provide you with a record of annual payments entered into your Social Security account over time. This Statement is available free online. You may use this statement to determine if too much taxable earnings have been reported under your Social Security number, for example: if somebody has gained employment under your information.
    • Go to and follow the steps to create an account. This will allow you to download your Social Security Statement. 
    • If you are unable to go online to access this information, you can call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
  • Do not request your Social Security Earnings Statement at this time. There is a fee for this more detailed statement which identifies employers who have paid into your SSA account.  At this time, you want your free Social Security Statement only.
  • Check the earnings section against your yearly W2s. If it is incorrect, file a police report for employment fraud or identity theft. Then read Solution 27 on the ITRC website for further instructions.

If you are requesting the information on a minor child or a dependent adult please read Solution 27

Refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 100A for further information on more complex cases.

To report Social Security fraud: call (800) 269‑0271 or E-mail:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  Refer also to the Social Security Administration’s website:

11: Stolen Smart Phone:

Call your service provider and have them cancel your service and report your phone missing. Treat the loss of your smartphone as you would the loss of a wallet or purse.  

  • Itemize what information was stored on your phone and what websites could be accessed. This includes your bank accounts, online purchases, digital wallet, etc.
  • Proceed to secure these accounts just as you would if actual credit cards or account information had been stolen.
  • If you have enrolled in a backup / wiping program, contact the administrator of your program and have them “wipe” your phone.

12: Birth Certificate

Notify the issuing county recorder’s office of the loss. In the future, do not carry this on your person unless needed that day.

13: Health insurance: Notify the medical insurance carrier immediately. Request a replacement policy number.

14: Auto insurance/AAA: Notify the insurance company immediately. You don’t want someone using your information in the event of an accident. Request a replacement policy number.

Other Items:

  • Discount or annual passes: Notify the issuing business and see if they have a replacement policy.  
  • Library and video store cards: Contact the issuing company/agency. Ask for that account to be closed and another opened with a replacement number. You may also want to add a password to the new account.
  • All other cards with a membership or identification number printed on the card (SSN or another number): Contact the issuing company, school, or employer. Notify them of the loss and request a replacement card with a new account number. In the event that the SSN was the membership number, request that an alternate number be used or that a letter be added to the membership number. This will help to separate your usage from that of the thief.
  • Renewable long distance calling cards: Contact the company. Request that they transfer any remaining minutes to another card with a new account number. Close the account to the card.

Tips for Dealing with the Authorities and Financial Institutions:

  • Keep a log of all conversations, receipts for expenses, and other pertinent items. See ITRC Fact Sheet 106 - Organizing Your Case.
  • Request a written verification that accounts have been closed (including time and date), and/or a confirmation number.
  • Send correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • Keep copies of all letters and documents that you send and receive.
  • Whenever possible, speak with a fraud investigator and not a customer-service representative. If you are not satisfied with the answers given, request to speak with a supervisor. Keep going up the chain of command until you reach a decision-maker.
  • Add passwords to bank, utility and credit accounts. A strong password should be more than 8 characters in length, and contain both capital letters and at least one numeric or other non-alphabetical character.  Use of non-dictionary words is also advised.

Preventative Tips:

  • Photocopy the front and back of all important cards you carry including credit cards. Keep original documents in a locked box. 
  • PDAs: Use password protection so that if your PDA is turned on by an unauthorized user only a log-in screen will appear. Add instructions on how to contact you to return the device. Most password products range in features and price ($10-$30). Some of the more full-featured products offer data encryption, while others simply offer a password on startup, leaving the data in the device unencrypted. You should also keep a backup of the data on your PDA to use as a starting inventory should it be lost. Additionally, some smart phones have a “remote wipe” ability, allowing you to delete all information off your phone in the event that you lose it. 
  • Close credit card accounts you don’t use any longer. If you haven’t used a card for at least 6 months, you probably don’t need it. Only carry one or two cards on a daily basis. 
  • Purses with shoulder straps should be tucked under an arm. Make sure that your purse is in your line of vision. Book bags and carry-alls that hang over your back, out of sight, are easy targets. 
  • For men and women: Use a fanny pack to store your wallet and valuables when you know you will be in large crowds. Place the pack so that it is in front of your body and always in your line of vision. Any fanny pack used should have a cable in the strap and reinforced bottom to prevent slicing, plus additional inside zippers to keep things compartmentalized.  

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


ITRC Fact Sheet 103
Online Shopping

This fact sheet offers recommendations on how to make your online experiences safe and enjoyable. The following subjects will be addressed:

In recent years, more people have found the Internet a convenient way to shop, pay bills and track banking activity. The world of electronic commerce, also known as e-commerce, has expanded our purchasing abilities from local retailers to world-wide companies and expedited our ability to shop while maintaining a busy schedule.

Unfortunately, things can go wrong while shopping in cyberspace. Sometimes it is simply a case of a computer glitch or poor customer service. Other times, shoppers are cheated by hackers and thieves.

Check the Authenticity of the Website Address or URL

Above the web site at the top of your screen is a rectangular window that contains the web site address (also called the URL or Uniform Resource Locator).  For example, see Trend Micro's free Website URL Checker link on the ITRC website. By checking that address, it can give you clues as to whether you are dealing with the correct company or a safe website.

Cyber-thieves have created web sites that look convincingly like the web sites of well known companies.  These sites will capture the credit card numbers of unwary shoppers when they attempt to purchase an item.  The thieves then use the stolen credit card numbers to make fraudulent purchases in the shopper’s name.  If these shoppers had checked the URL at the top of the screen, they could have noticed that it was not the same URL as the real company.

Secure Websites

Secure websites use security technology to transfer information from your computer to the online merchant’s computer.  This technology scrambles (encrypts) the information you send, such as your credit card number, in order to prevent computer hackers from obtaining it. 

The following items shown on your web browser will indicate a connection to a secure web site.

  • https:// The “s” that is displayed after “http” indicates that web site is secure.  Often, you do not see the “s” until you actually move to the order page on the web site.
  • A closed yellow padlock displayed at the bottom of your screen or next to your URL box.  If that lock is open, you should assume it is not a secure site.

 Research the Vendor or Website 

Do business with companies you already know.  If the company is unfamiliar, investigate their authenticity and credibility. Conduct an internet search (i.e. Google, Yahoo) for the company name. The results should usually provide both positive and negative comments about the company. If there are no results, be extremely wary. Reliable companies should advertise their business address and at least one phone number, either customer service or an order line. Call the phone number and ask questions to determine if the business is legitimate.  Ask how the merchant handles returned merchandise and complaints.  Find out if it offers full refunds or only store credits.

You can also research a company in the Internet yellow pages, through the Better Business Bureau (see listing below), or a government consumer protection agency including the district attorney’s office or the state Attorney General.  Perhaps friends or family members who live in the city listed can verify the validity of the company.  Remember, anyone can create a web site.

Try to shop on a website of a business that has locations within the U.S.  These stores must follow specific state and federal consumer laws.  You might not get the same protection if you place an order with a company located in another country.

Website Privacy and Security Policies

Every reputable e-commerce web site offers information about how it protects your personal information.  This information will be listed within their Privacy Policy.  You can find out if they intend to share your information with a third party or affiliate company.  Do they require these companies to refrain from marketing to their customers?  If not, you can expect to receive “spam” (unsolicited e-mail), mail or phone solicitations from these companies or others.

Look for online merchants who are members of a seal-of-approval program that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices.  TRUSTe ( and BBB online,, are two such programs.

Be aware that a strong privacy policy and membership in a certification program do not guarantee that the web merchant will protect your privacy indefinitely.  Policies change or the company could go out of business. See ITRC Fact Sheet FS 102 - Consumer Risk Test.

Credit vs. Debit

The safest way to shop on the Internet is with a credit card.  (Please refer to ITRC Fact Sheet FS 131 – Credit Cards vs. Debit Cards.) In the event something goes wrong, you are protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act.  You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation.  When it has been determined that your credit was used without authorization, you can only be held responsible for the first $50 in charges. We recommend that you obtain one credit card that you use only for online payments to make it easier to detect wrongful credit charges, and to keep your other cards from being exposed.

E-commerce shopping by check leaves you vulnerable to bank fraud. Make sure your credit card is a credit card only and not a debit card, or a check card. As with checks, a debit card exposes your bank account to thieves. Further, debit cards are not protected to the extent that credit cards are by federal law.

What Information to Provide

Disclose Only the Bare Facts When You Order. Never provide a Social Security Number to a vendor. When placing an order, there is certain information that you must provide to the web merchant such as your name and address.  Often, a merchant will try to obtain more information about you.  This information is used to target you for marketing purposes.  It can lead to “spam” or even direct mail and telephone solicitations.

Don’t answer any question you feel is not required to process your order.  Often, the web site will mark which questions are mandatory with an asterisk (*).  Should a company require information you are not comfortable sharing, leave the site and find a different company for the product you seek.

Confirmation of Order

After placing an order online, you should receive a confirmation page that reviews your entire order.  It should include the cost of your order, your customer information, product information, and the confirmation number.

Print at least one copy of the confirmation page and the web page(s) describing the item you ordered, as well as the page showing the company name, postal address, phone number, and legal terms, including return policy.  Keep it for your own records for at least the period covered by the return/warranty policy.

You will often also receive a confirmation message that is e-mailed to you by the merchant.  Be sure to save and/or print this message as well as any other e-mail correspondence with the company.

Shipping and Return Policies

A company must ship your order within the time frame stated.  If no time frame is stated, you should inquire how long the delivery will take.  This gives you an opportunity to cancel the order and receive a prompt refund or agree to any delay.

Here are key shipping considerations:

  • Does the site tell you if there are geographic or other restrictions for delivery?
  • Are there choices for shipping?
  • Who pays the shipping cost?
  • What does the site say about shipping insurance?
  • What are the shipping and handling fees, and are they reasonable?

Even under the best of circumstances, shoppers sometimes need to return merchandise.  Check the web site for cancellation and return policies.

  • Who pays for shipping?
  • Is there a time limit or other restrictions to the return or cancellation?
  • Is there a restocking charge if you need to cancel or return the order?
  • Do you get a store credit, or will the company fully refund your charges to your credit card?  If the merchant only offers store credits, find out the time restriction for using this credit.

Don’t expect less customer service just because a company operates over the Internet.  This is especially important if you are buying something that may need to be cleaned or serviced on occasion.

  • Does the merchant post a phone number and/or e-mail address for complaints?
  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Will they still be around when you need them?
  • Is there an easy, local way for you to get repairs or service?
  • Is there a warranty on the product, and who honors that guarantee?
  • What are the limits, and under what circumstances can you exercise your warranty rights?

 Use Shopper’s Intuition 

Heed the old adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

  • Are there extraordinary claims that you question?
  • Do the company’s prices seem unusually low?
  • Does the company’s phone go unanswered?
  • The use of a post office box might not send up a red flag, but a merchant who does not also provide the company’s physical address might be cause for concern.

If any of these questions trigger a warning, you will be wise to find another online merchant or buy the product in a store.

Be Wary of Identity Theft 

Identity thieves are increasingly using the web to scam you and gather credit card, checking account, debit card or Social Security Numbers.  Be aware of this trend.  Please refer to the ITRC Fact Sheet FS 123 – Scam Assistance.

Check your credit card bills carefully for several months after purchasing on the Internet.  Look for purchases you did not make.  If you find some, immediately contact the credit card company and file a dispute.

Order your credit reports at least once a year and check for accounts that have been opened without your permission. Please see the ITRC Fact Sheet 125 - How to Order Your Free Credit Report.

Electronic Signatures

Federal law enables shoppers to verify online purchases with merchants using an “electronic signature.” Usually, this process is nothing more than clicking on a box that says you accept the terms of the order. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, also known as the E-Sign Act, is a complex law.  Read the Terms of Agreement carefully before completing the transaction.



Listed below are web sites that provide additional information about shopping online.  

The FBI’s Internet Fraud Complaint Center allows you to report suspected cases of Internet and e-commerce fraud.

The Better Business Bureau certifies web merchants with a privacy seal of approval.  You can research merchants through the BBB and also report e-commerce fraud problems at these sites. and  

The Federal Trade Commission’s online shopping advice.

Website created by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to provide shopping tips for buying online prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs on the web.  


This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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