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What is "identity theft"? How can someone steal your identity? Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years — and their hard-earned money — cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit.

If you think your identity has been stolen, here's what to do now:

Step 1: Protect your finances

Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, Trans Union — to place a fraud alert on your credit file. The fraud alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts, and all three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge. (Phone numbers and addresses are listed below.)

Step 2: Close all compromised accounts

Contact your financial institutions and credit card issuers immediately. Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

Step 3: File a police report

You will need a police report to dispute unauthorized charges and for any insurance claims. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.

Step 4: File your complaint

File your complaint with the FTC. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps us learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that we can better assist you.

Where Can You Obtain Additional Information?


Major Credit Bureaus:

  • Equifaxwww.equifax.com
    To order your report, call: 800-685-1111
    or write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

    To report fraud, call: 800-525-6285
    and write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experianwww.experian.com
    To order your report, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
    or write: P.O. Box 2002, Allen TX 75013

    To report fraud, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
    and write: P.O. Box 9530, Allen TX 75013
  • Trans Unionwww.transunion.com
    To order your report, call: 800-888-4213
    or write: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022

    To report fraud, call: 800-680-7289
    and write: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634

Source: Information adapted from Federal Trade Commission Web site on Identity Theft. For more information, please visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.