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Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when an individual's personal information (such as their name, Social Security number or credit card number) is used without their consent to commit fraud and other crimes. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 10 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. 

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

While people with high incomes are the preferred prey of identity thieves, everyone is a potential target. Follow the steps below to ensure the security of your financial identity.

Review Bills and Bank Statements for Irregularities

Review credit card, phone and bank statements for irregularities and be aware of your billing cycles. Contact creditors immediately if you find a discrepancy or if you don’t receive a bill when expected. If possible, close all accounts that are no longer needed and ask the company to verify in writing that the account has in fact been closed.

Request a Free Credit Report

You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies. You don’t have to ask all three agencies for your reports at the same time; you can stagger your requests so that you can view your report over the entire year. Reports are available by calling 1-877-322-8228 or going to www.annualcreditreport.com

Beware of other companies offering “free credit reports.” You may be signing up for more than just your report, such as a program to monitor your credit or another service that will come with a substantial fee.

Major Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies
Major Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies

Website

Phone Number

Mailing Address

Equifax

1-800-525-6285

P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374

Experian

1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)

P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion

1-800-680-7289

Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834

Dispose of Your Unwanted Mail Carefully

To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to steal your personal information, always thoroughly shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired credit cards, credit offers and any other mail that contains personal information.

Keep Your Personal Information Safe

Your Social Security number is the key that unlocks your personal identity. Don’t give out personal information, especially your Social Security number, on the phone, through the mail or over the internet unless you’re absolutely certain who you're dealing with. Ask your health insurance provider and other companies that may use your Social Security number as your identification number if they can provide you with a substitute number to use instead. It’s also a good idea to remove extraneous information such as middle name, phone number, Social Security number or driver’s license number from your checks.

Sometimes a red flag on a mailbox can lure thieves into stealing your outgoing mail. To avoid possible theft, send your bill payments and other mail containing personal information from the post office or another public mailbox and not from your home. Also, if you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 or visit https://holdmail.usps.com to request that a hold be placed on your mail.

Beware of Skimming

Skimming is the theft of credit card information used in an otherwise legitimate transaction. There are a number of different skimming techniques, but each involves a small electronic storage device that traps information from the magnetic strip on your credit card when it is swiped during a transaction. These devices have been found to be used by restaurant staff and even attached to gas pumps and ATMs.

When using an ATM or paying for gas at the pump, examine the card reader thoroughly. If it appears loose or your card doesn't seem to slide smoothly, immediately notify the bank or gas station manager.

Beware of Phishing

Phishing is a term used when scammers falsify their identity, normally by claiming to represent a legitimate corporation or governmental agency. They then try to entice you into revealing your personal information such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords or other sensitive data.

Phishing attacks can happen through the internet, email, regular mail or your telephone. Some scammers call from what appears to be a legitimate business and ask you to update your account information. With the help of internet phones (VoIP), these callers are becoming harder to trace because scammers can alter your caller ID information to give the perception that the call is coming from a legitimate source (known as spoofing).

Be Cautious When Using the Internet

Place passwords on all of your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date and the last four digits of your Social Security number. Combinations of letters, numbers and special characters make the strongest passwords. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them all regularly. Be cautious with your emails and do not open any links unless you’re absolutely certain who sent you the email. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the internet without your knowledge.

Opt Out of Junk Mail

Receiving a lot of unwanted junk mail (paper and electronic) and pre-approved credit offers makes you more vulnerable to identity theft. If you want to halt the unnecessary mail, send “opt-out” letters to businesses you have a relationship with (such as your financial institutions, mortgage company, telephone company, charities, credit card companies, etc.) restricting them from selling, renting, distributing or exchanging your personal information.

The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference and Email Preference Services let you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies. Any choices you make will be effective for three years from the date you make them. Keep in mind that your registration will not stop mailings from organizations that do not use the DMA’s Mail Preference Service.

Register with the DMA’s Mail Preference Service.

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion offer a toll-free number that enables you to opt out of having pre-approved credit offers sent to you for five years. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com for more information. When you call, you’ll be asked for personal information, including your name, address, telephone number and Social Security number. The information you provide is confidential and will be used only to process your request to opt out of receiving prescreened offers of credit.

Recognize the Signs of Identity Theft

Victims often do not realize their identity has been stolen until they are denied credit, turned down for a job, or sent a bill for purchases they did not make. Other signs of identity theft are:

  • You are contacted by a collection agency regarding a debt you did not incur.
  • You see fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit reports (including accounts and personal information like your Social Security number, address, name or initials, and employers).
  • You get a phone call or letter telling you that you have been approved or denied credit for accounts you never requested.
  • You receive credit cards that you did not apply for.
  • You fail to receive bills or other mail on their regular billing cycle.
  • Checks disappear from your checkbook.

What to Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

If you are a victim of identity theft, the FTC recommends taking the following four steps as soon as possible.

  1. Place a fraud alert on all your credit reports.
  2. Close the accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  3. File a complaint with the FTC.
  4. File a police report.

As you work through these steps, it's important to keep a record with the details of all your conversations (including who you spoke with and the date and time of the call) and copies of all correspondence.

Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports

Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Once you place a fraud alert in your file, you’re entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the consumer credit reporting agencies.

Once you receive your credit reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain. Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

While a fraud alert can help keep an identity thief from opening new accounts in your name, it’s not a solution to all types of identity theft. It will not protect you from an identity thief using your existing credit cards or other accounts. It also will not protect you from an identity thief opening new accounts in your name that do not require a credit check — such as a telephone, wireless or bank account. If there’s identity theft already going on when you place the fraud alert, the fraud alert alone won’t stop it. A fraud alert, however, can be extremely useful in stopping identity theft that involves opening a new line of credit.

Close Accounts That Have Been Tampered With

Immediately call and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each company where a fraud has taken place and ask them what specific steps are required to begin the dispute/notification process. When you follow up with all of your compromised credit issuers in writing, include copies (NOT originals) of all your supporting documents and a copy of your ID Theft Affidavit [ Adobe PDF Document ]. Send your correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Make sure to keep a copy of all your correspondence and enclosures for future reference.

At your request, the Fraud Section of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will place a flag on your Florida driver'’s license if you are a victim of identity theft (regardless of whether your license was compromised). If you show your license to law enforcement or a Florida court, having a flag will require officers to ask for two or more pieces of identification. To reach the Fraud Section, call (850) 617-2405.

File a Complaint with the FTC

You can file a complaint with the FTC using the FTC's online complaint form or by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer victims' complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.

The printed FTC ID Theft Complaint, in conjunction with the police report, can constitute an Identity Theft Report and entitle you to certain protections. This Identity Theft Report can be used to:

  • Permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report,
  • Ensure that debts do not reappear on your credit report,
  • Prevent a company from continuing to collect debts that result from identity theft, and
  • Place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.

File a Police Report

File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Furnish as much documentation as you can to prove your case, including a copy of your complaint to the FTC. Debt collection letters, credit reports, your notarized ID Theft Affidavit and other evidence of fraudulent activity can help the police file a complete report. Make sure to always maintain a copy of your police report as you will need this with creditors who may want proof of the crime. This report will also help you claim your rights as a victim of identity theft. Under the voluntary “Police Report Initiative,” credit reporting agencies will automatically block the fraudulent accounts and bad debts from appearing on your credit report, but only if you can give them a copy of the police report.