Almost everybody has heard the horror stories and nightmare scenarios of an identity thief gaining your personal information and using it to establish credit card, loans and other lines of credit that you would not have applied for yourself. But what these scenarios rarely talk about are the steps you can take to prevent such an event from occurring, or what to do to clear your name should you find yourself in this situation.

Something that anybody can do, at any time, is to place a free 90-Day Fraud Alert on their credit reports. This requests that credit issuers (credit card companies, cell phones, etc) contact you first before they approve of any applications for credit. This will not affect accounts you have open or your credit score. As well, you can replace the fraud alert every 91 days at no charge, or extend it to seven years with a police report. The fraud alert can be applied for over the phone or going to each credit agency’s website directly. It’s always a good idea to place the fraud alert with all three companies yourself to make sure that possible fraud doesn’t get in the way of your protection.

Once you place the 90-Day Fraud Alert the credit reporting agencies will send to you a letter with instructions on how to gain a free copy of your credit report. This way you can make sure that everything is ok with your credit reports and fraud isn’t taking place. This report does not count towards your annual free credit report, allowing you to save that one for later.

But what should you do if there is something on your credit report? The first step is to file an Identity Theft Report through the Federal Trade Commission.

Once you have filed an Identity Theft Report, contact the companies that are reporting fraudulent accounts. Request to speak to their fraud or identity theft department and inform them of the fraudulent account. Fill out these documents, get them notarized, and send them back to the company/s with a copy of your Identity Theft Report. Some companies will ask for other things like a photocopy of your driver’s license. Make sure you send these documents with your packet. Make sure you send it Certified Mail Return Receipt so that you get proof of when they received your paperwork.

Continue to talk to these companies and, if need be, send them any documents they may request. If all goes well, they will recognize this was identity theft and they won’t hold you responsible. Make sure you get this in writing. Computers can error and humans make mistakes. These letters of clearance come in handy when this happens.

For more long term/permanent options for protection from identity theft (especially after you have already been victimized) look into freezing your credit reports with the three credit reporting agencies. The process is slightly different for each state, but all states offer the freeze for free to victims with a police report.

For more information, check out the ITRC victim assistance page here:

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.

I’m an old guy, and have been quite a few places, and done quite a few things. So, not much surprises me anymore. And, along with life’s lessons, I acquired over 25 years of business experience before retiring and ultimately ending up at the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). But one thing that has continued to surprise me for the past 6 years is hearing the details of hundreds of new identity theft cases each and every month. I have found these cases to be constantly changing and evolving, and ranging from simple to very complex. Although I am not a victim advisor, I have been constantly surprised at what ITRC Victim Advisors do each and every work day to help this unending stream of victims.

A victim advisor for the ITRC never knows what the next call will bring. The phone rings according to your position on the phone queue, and now it becomes your call, your turn to listen, assess, question, analyze, discuss, and plan. Hopefully you can make some sense and order out of a victim’s pain and suffering at the hands of an identity thief. The training and preparation to become an identity theft Victim Advisor is by itself daunting. Each person I have seen trained for the job soon shows the signs of “information overload” as they begin to understand the breadth and depth of the information that must be understood and retained in order to appropriately answer that ITRC Call Center phone.

ITRC provides information and help on a wide variety of identity theft cases, scams, and related topics. Identity theft cases can be financial, government related (SSN and DMV), medical, criminal, child related, or Internet/account takeover types of cases. Each of these types of cases will require different actions to correct. In many cases the appropriate response, that will actually do some good, may vary depending upon the laws of the state of residence. And, as if that wasn’t enough, a significant percentage of these callers will have more than one type of identity theft to resolve. In the period January through August 2012, 28% of the victims reported governmental identity theft, usually meaning the illicit use of their SSN in some manner. Approximately 6 out of 10 reported financial identity theft. It is relatively common for a single victim to have financial identity theft at the same time they are a victim of governmental identity theft. Since there are many “sub-types” to each of these major categories, the Victim Advisor has the task of sorting out all the facets of these cases, and determining the appropriate course of action for each.

In addition, victims of identity theft are often very emotional and upset with this unexpected and serious invasion of their privacy. Some need to vent, and most have also been frustrated with endless phone trees, conflicting website information, and probably have found little coherent help with their specific problem. The Victim Advisors deal with a wide variety of personalities, including a few that simply don’t want to help themselves, and expect “someone else” to fix the problems. It is a saving grace that for most of the victims who contact the ITRC this will be their first time to speak with a live person, who is interested in their specific case, and has the knowledge to provide a good roadmap of actions to begin mitigating the problems.

So, I continue to be impressed by what the ITRC Victim Advisors do, and how they do it. In the field of identity theft, they are “in training” every day as exploits used by the criminals are constantly evolving. And it is always a great payback when a victim calls or emails, thanking our advisors for what they do.

When most people think of identity theft they think of a thief opening up fraudulent accounts under their name and information, charging huge amounts of money. What a lot of people don’t consider is the possibility of a thief gaining access to their own credit reports and learning about where they have credit. If you find that somebody has pulled your credit report without your permission, don’t panic. Stay calm, there are things you can do to protect yourself.

The first is to get a copy of your credit reports yourself if you don’t already have one. This can be done by placing a 90 day fraud alert on your credit report by phone, by visiting the three credit reporting agencies’ websites, or by writing to the three credit reporting agencies if you are having problem with the phone or internet. Credit report

Once you have your credit reports you can see all of the companies that currently have accounts under your social security number, and if the thief has started any new accounts.

For lines of credit that are your own, call or physically go to these companies and talk to them about precautions and protections that can be placed on your account to prevent fraud. Most companies will offer a password or pin code for you. In cases of credit cards and some bank loans, you might want to consider changing the account number to make it more difficult on a potential thief. If you have any credit card accounts that you do not use regularly you may want to consider closing them. Make sure you have documentation showing when you have closed any line of credit reported with the CRAs.

If a fraudulent line of credit has been opened by the thief, read Fact Sheet FS 100 on the Identity Theft Resource Center’s website. It will walk you through what to do. After you have secured all of your accounts, consider freezing your credit reports. This will prevent the thief from viewing them again as well as establishing new accounts under your information. You can read about freezing from the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Website., Fact Sheet FS 124.

For continued vigilance, keep track of all statements (mailed or electronic) and watch everything for new activity or charges. Make sure all accounts that are supposed to be closed stay closed. Check your credit reports every year to make sure that everything remains ok and when in doubt, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center at 888-400-5530 for a free phone consultation.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

With all the high-tech ways that hackers and identity thieves can help themselves to your money, it’s easy to forget that the “old school” methods are still a very real threat. Things like dumpster diving for your discarded credit card offers or stealing your mail from your curbside mailbox still carry the possibility of a crime.

One viable method of wreaking havoc with your identity is to have your purse or wallet go missing, either through loss or theft. If that occurs, your checkbook can provide an opportunistic thief with a short-lived but still hefty payday.

If you notice that your checkbook is missing, there are some important steps you should take:

1. Is it lost or stolen?

This can be hard to determine, but if you’re able to tell whether it was just misplaced (maybe your wallet fell off the roof of your car when you drove away) versus actively stolen, your next appropriate steps can change. If you’re certain it was just dropped or left behind somewhere, call your bank and have those check numbers invalidated. If you aren’t certain about the numbers in your checkbook, they may be able to help you trace back which numbers you’ve already spent, and go from there.

2. Placing a freeze

If you can’t figure out the numbers or if you aren’t certain this was an accident, your bank might put a freeze on your account. It’s temporary but immediate, and it can prevent a thief from spending money in your name. That’s why it’s important to contact your financial institution as soon as you know something’s wrong.

3. Closing the account

Ultimately, your bank may decide that closing the account is the best option, especially if someone got a lot of checks or your bank cards. They will usually meet with you to determine which pending transactions are valid, such as any automatic bill pay items like your power bill, and help you establish a new account.

4. Transfer those draft payments!

If you do have to open a new account, make sure you think about all of the automatic draft payments you have, such as utility bills, gym memberships, or other recurring items. You don’t want a constant reminder of this headache every time your electricity is shut off or your membership expires for non-payment.

5. Decide if a police report is warranted

If you think you might have just lost your wallet, you might not need a police report. However, it’s a good idea to contact your local law enforcement office anyway and let them determine if you need to file any paperwork. After all, the person who finds your missing wallet might not be honest and could use your identification or your cards for fraud. If you do know that it was stolen, then you definitely should alert the police and file a report.

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.

It’s a scenario that unsettles most people; the loss or theft of your wallet or purse. Your ID cards, all your credit and debit cards, receipts, any number of other valuable documents, even pictures with sentimental value might be lost.

While there’s no way to completely protect oneself from the sting of such a loss, the best way to reduce such difficulty is to ensure that only the things you really need with you all the time are the things you carry, and to leave the rest at home. The difference between a temporary headache and a life-long issue can sometimes boil down to what you did or didn’t have in that purse or wallet. Below are five things you should (almost) NEVER carry around in a purse or wallet:

  • Social Security Card (or any piece of paper with the SSN written on it): This is one of the biggest mistakes, and generates many calls to the ITRC.wallet Identity theft springing from a stolen social security card carried in a wallet or purse is among the most common ways people become victims. If you lose your wallet and the Social Security card was in it, unlike a credit or debit card, you cannot simply cancel the card and change the number. This number is what’s known as a “unique identifier,” meaning that number is unique to you, and only you, and cannot be changed in all but the rarest of cases. With that Social Security number and little else, a criminal can take over your identity, open new accounts in your name, work under your name, create new drivers licenses or state ID’s in other states, and on and on. Unless you have need of your Social Security card THAT DAY, do not carry your Social Security card around in your purse or wallet. This document, more than any other, changes the loss of a wallet from a temporary hurdle to a life of constant increased vigilance and paranoia.
  • Birth Certificate: Possibly the only thing more damaging than losing a Social Security card is the loss of a birth certificate. Your certificate of live birth is the first and fundamental document issued by the government and it is the document from which all other documents spring. A birth certificate can get you a replacement Social Security card, a passport, a driver’s license, and many other forms of identification, virtually anything. Since this document is considered by government and financial institutions as the bedrock identifying document, once a thief has possession of it, it is virtually impossible to prevent fraud. At that point, your only recourse is to try and clean up the mess after fraud has already occurred. This document is the single most destructive one in existence if it falls into the wrong hands. Obviously, something like this should never be carried around where it could be easily lost or stolen.
  • Account and Routing Numbers: If you’re not going to the bank today, why are you carrying around the account and routing number to your checking account? In the wrong hands, these numbers can be used by a thief to clean you out, overdraw you, and leave you stuck with the financial loss. Unlike the loss of a check or credit card, simply canceling the card will not prevent a thief with access to your account numbers from making use of your account. One must actually close the account and open an entirely new one. In the interim, you will have to file a police report and dispute with the bank any fraudulent charges. You may get your money returned after the conclusion of an investigation, but in the meantime, you no longer have access to your money. Avoid carrying these numbers around unless really necessary. If you do lose an account number, immediately set up a verbal password with your bank to protect against any unauthorized access to your account.
  • Password Cheat Sheets: I know, in today’s highly integrated electronic society, you might have as many as 10-12 passwords you need to remember for various accounts. More than you can probably remember on your own. To give yourself a little help, you wrote them down in one place you’ll know to look in the event you can’t remember one of them. Good trick, but DON’T leave it in your wallet. Even if the passwords aren’t linked to paper to any particular account, it’s a GREAT cheat sheet for any thief looking to do additional damage. Keep your password cheat sheet where it belongs, at home.


  • Passports: A passport is a quintessential document necessary for international travel. This document, because it is government-issued is also useful in acquiring a new Social Security card, driver’s license or state ID card, and can be used as an identifying document in acquiring a loan or opening a new credit account. Unless you’re leaving the country today, leave that passport at home.

In today’s age of electronic commerce it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s the best way to make purchases that don’t require cash. Should you charge it on your credit card, or should you use your debit card and not have to worry about paying it back? For many people the convenience of a debit card is the deciding factor. Also, they feel safe knowing their information is protected by the pin code that they set up when the card was activated. But there are some things that most consumers may not know about the difference between debit card and credit card transactions. Things they should consider when making purchases.

  • Most places do not check IDs anymore when purchases are made using a card. So,anybody can swipe any card when making a purchase and becredit card relatively certain that they won’t need to prove their identity to finish the purchase.
  • A pin code does not have to be used when making a purchase with a debit card. Most card readers will give you the option of running your debit card as a credit card, making the need for a pin code authentication meaningless. You can tell if your debit card will allow this option if it has the Visa or Master Card logo on it.
  • Most credit card companies will give you 30 to 60 days to report fraudulent activity on your card. Since it is a charge account, no actual money has left your bank account and once you successfully dispute the fraudulent charges you will not be held responsible for them.
  • Most debit cards give the user only a 2 to 7 day window to report fraudulent charges. Also, since the card is attached to your bank account, the fraudulent transaction must be completed before the money can be refunded to your account. This process can take up to two weeks. In that time, overdraft charges may be incurred and will have to be disputed with the bank.

Yes, debit cards do offer many conveniences to consumers when making purchases. But those conveniences may leave you vulnerable to fraud and reduce your protections in case your information falls into the wrong hands. When making purchases follow these helpful tips:

  • Use credit cards to make purchases and transaction, especially online.
  • Do not use debit cards when making purchases online. All purchases with a debit card come directly from your bank account. If your debit card number is compromised online you only have a short amount of time to catch and report the fraud. Then, it can take several weeks to recover the money and put it back into your account.
  • Avoid carrying a debit card that carries the Visa/Master Card Logo. These cards can be used exactly like credit cards without the need of a pin code.
  • Use an ATM Only card to access your bank accounts. This card can only be used at ATMs and does require a pin code to access.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

Either through a failed attempt at renewing your driver’s license, an unexpected failed background check during a pre-employment screening, or through some event more traumatizing, like being informed at a traffic stop that you have a criminal record you were not aware of, you’ve discovered that someone has successfully made a fraudulent driver’s license (or state id card) with your information. Now what? I interviewed ITRC’s senior advisor Wilma to get the best tips for resolving driver’s license or state ID fraud.

governmental id theftITRC: What is the most important first step for any victim of driver’s license fraud to take in order to mitigate their case?

Wilma: They should call the DMV Fraud Department in the state where the fraudulent license was issued and inform them that a license was issued in their state using their stolen information.

ITRC: What can be done if the victim needs a new license in the state where as a result of the fraud, someone else already is in possession of a current and active license?

Wilma: When the victim contacts the issuing state’s DMV, the process will vary slightly depending on the state. The victim should ask that particular DMV what they require to be sent to them in order to get the current license suspended or revoked so that the victim can get a valid license issued in his home state.

ITRC: Ok, what next?

Wilma: The victim must file a police report for criminal impersonation/identity theft at their local police dept. They should also check with their local Social Security Office to determine if SSA issued a replacement social security card and how many were issued.

ITRC: And what if the SSA informs the victim that replacement cards they didn’t request have been issued, potentially to the identity thief?

Wilma: In that case, the victim should submit their police report to the Social Security Administrations, and inform them that the prior requests were fraudulent. Request them to furnish you a Work History Report to make sure no one is employed using your Social Security Number. Then check your Credit Reports, and issue fraud alerts. In the event that any fraudulent financial information appears on the Credit Report, the victim will need to contact each of those creditors, inform them that the debt is fraudulent, and submit to each creditor a copy of your police report, along with a written dispute of the charges.

Identity theft is an ever-growing problem. What follows are 5 simple steps anyone can easily take to reduce their risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

  1. Get that Social Security Card and birth certificate OUT of your wallet/purse/car: I can’t stress this enough, if you’re not going to get a passport or open a bank account, or process your new-hire paperwork for your next job TODAY, then why are your most sacred identity documents still floating around in your purse or wallet? I can’t tell you how often the ITRC works with confirmed identity theft victims whose cases began out of a lost or stolen purse or wallet. Without an SSN or birth certificate, the theft of a wallet is a temporary inconvenience. You’ll have cancel a few credit cards, maybe close a bank account or two, and get yourself a new license from the DMV. If on the other hand if either or both of those documents were inside the wallet or purse when stolen, congratulations; you’ll now be at an exponentially greater risk for identity theft, and numerous other types of fraud….for the rest of your natural existence. That’s not an exaggeration, once a birth certificate or SSN is compromised or exposed; there is NO perfect solution to putting humpty dumpty back together again. You’ve now forced yourself to become the paranoid, mildly panicky consumer you previously may have made fun of.
  2. Shred Your Mail: Most consumers don’t pay attention to the plethora of personal information we throw away in our discarded mail. Our mail often contains vital information that is best protected from the public. Everything from account numbers, contact information, SSN’s, dates of birth, tax id numbers, all can be found in your mailed correspondence. Invest in a shredder and make sure that any document that contains sensitive personal data makes it through the cross cutters before it goes to the trash. Having a locking mailbox is also a good idea.
  3. Check Your Credit Reports: I know you hear this all the time, from a thousand different places right? But do you really understand WHY checking your credit is a good idea? Think of it being similar to a financial X-ray – if you broke your ankle, you would go to the doctor to get it checked out. Chances are a medical professional knows your ankle is broken just from feeling it, but he orders the X-ray anyway. Why? Because the X-ray allows the doctor to identify precisely where the damage is, and hence the best/most appropriate remedy. A credit report is no different. It will show you if damage to your credit worthiness might exist, and may point out where the damage is coming from. Knowing that someone else is using your credit worthiness, and identifying the SOURCE of bad/fraudulent information is obviously the first step in getting it corrected. Checking your credit is the easiest way to find out if someone else is using your financial good name to acquire benefit, at your cost.
  4. Don’t Send Personal Identifying Information (PII) to an Online Employer: Never give your SSN, bank account numbers, or any other personally identifying information (PII) to an employer you’ve never met in person. Searching online for jobs is a fast, convenient way to job search, but consumers should understand that this convenience is not without added risk. If you haven’t had an in person meeting or at least a few phone conversations with your perspective employer, than why does he need your SSN? Make sure you know the organization that may be hiring you before giving any information. Job scams are a very common way for thieves to capitalize on the desperation of others, so make sure you’re careful with what information you send and to whom you send it. A legitimate organization will almost always want an in-person interview before offering a job position.
  5. Don’t Be Lazy with Passwords: Is your password to your online bank account the same as the one to your email, which is the same as the one to your social media page, which is the same as the one to your fantasy sports team? Password laziness is a key way scammers take advantage of you. They find a way to get access to a piece of information that on its own is harmless (maybe a name and the last 4 digits of your social). This seemingly harmless info may be enough to request a password for an online banking account. Now they have access to one account. From there, if you’re not serious about your password selections, you might’ve just made it that much easier for a thief to gain access to your entire life online. Use capital letters and numbers, and change your passwords at regular intervals.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

Especially in today’s age of accessible information, parents are more and more protective of their children’s information. This is a wonderful thing because the more aware parents are of the risks to their children for identity theft, the less likely their children will become victims themselves.

If a situation occurs that could put your child’s social security number in danger (stolen wallet, information breach, etc.) It is natural for a parent to protect their child using the steps that an adult would use on themselves. The thing that is important for all adults to understand is that the process for children is very different and can have negative results if attempted.


It is important to keep in mind that the credit reporting agencies do not know that a person exists until a credit report is started under their social security number. This usually occurs when credit is applied for, like for a credit card, cell phone, student loans, etc. Another way this can occur is if a parent requests a credit report on their child too often. By frequently inquiring into your child’s social security number with Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union, you run the risk of them viewing your credit checks like those done by a creditor. Checking once a year or even once every two years can start a credit history for your child at an age where they should not and cannot be applying for credit. The longer your child has inquiries but not credit on their credit report, the lower their perceived credit score goes. This will make it tougher for your child to apply for credit when they do turn 18 because it will appear that they have inquired for credit, but never received it.

In order to prevent this from happening:

  • Do not check on your child’s credit report unless there is evidence that fraud may be taking place. This can include:
    • Receiving bills or statements under your child’s name
    • Being told your child already has a bank account when you go to open one
    • Problems claiming your child on your taxes
    • Personal information is lost or stolen.
  • Check your child’s credit report when they turn 16 ONLY if one of the above scenarios have occurred. Checking at 16yrs of age allows you time to clear up any fraud that may be occurring before your child turns 18.

Child identity theft is definitely becoming more prevalent on parents’ radars as cases start to be revealed in the media. It is understandable for this concern, but as stated above a parent can do more harm than good if they are overzealous. For more information on child identity theft you can read the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Fact Sheet on Child Identity Theft. If you still have questions you can always call our victim advisor center toll free at 888.400.5530.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

When most people think of identity theft, they only imagine the financial implications of someone opening up credit cards or writing bad checks. However, there is a whole world of ways that these creative thieves can use a victim’s personal information. One of those ways is medical identity theft and even within this subset of crime there are even more typed of crimes to be committed. One of those is what is called financial identity theft.

Examples of this type of fraud would include a hospital or a doctor billing you for medical services given to another person. The thief may or may not have a copy of your private insurance card. Here are the following steps you should take if you believe you have become a victim of this particular crime.


  1. Contact the billing department of the medical facility or doctor requesting payment. If you are receiving this notice from a collection agency, then contact the collection agency first. Explain that this is a case of identity theft or mistaken identity. If the billing department is reluctant to help, then contact the attending doctor, or the medical facility’s fraud or legal department.
  2. Ask what proof they have that this person is you. There is almost always a physical description of the patient. Does it match you? You might be able to show that your height, weight, skin color, age, blood type, or sex is not the same as the “patient.”
  3. Ask when service was provided. You might be able to prove you were somewhere else during that period.
  4. What service was provided? If surgery was done or a condition was diagnosed, you might be able to prove you don’t have a scar or that condition.
  5. Ask if your Social Security Number (SSN) was used or just a name and address. If your SSN was used, you will need to follow the information in ITRC Fact Sheet 100 – Financial Identity Theft: the Beginning Steps and check your credit reports. This thief may be affecting your credit status in other ways. They may be opening new lines of credit or leaving other collection actions behind.
  6. Ask if this person used your medical insurance card or number. If so, contact your insurance company and report the problem. Ask for a new number on the replacement card. They may also have a fraud department that tracks cases.
  7. File a police report in your city and state of residence. You are a victim of a crime. At your earliest opportunity, obtain a copy of the police report.
  8. Send copies of your affidavit of fraud, the police report, any other supporting documentation proving identity theft to the medical billing department and any additional collection agencies which may be involved. Please remember to mail this documentation certified, return receipt requested.
  9. Once the provider agrees this is a case of fraud or identity theft, get that agreement in writing and keep it in a safe place forever. This is called a Letter of Clearance.

While this seems like an overwhelming amount of activity to clear your name, it is not. It will be difficult and you will be angry that this has happened to you, but it can be rectified. If at any time you need additional help or have questions you can always call the Identity Theft Resource Center at 888.400.5530 to speak with a live Victim Advisor who is trained to help you through this process. There is also additional information on the Identity Theft Resource Center’s website which may be helpful.