Protecting yourself from identity theft

AVOIDING IDENTITY THEFT

  1. Do not disclose your full nine-digit Social Security number unless absolutely necessary, and never use it as an identifier or password. Question those who ask for it.
  2. Avoid paper billing by requesting secure electronic statements instead. If you require hard copies, you can print and store them safely without risking mail theft.
  3. Lock your mailbox if it's lockable.
  4. Shred documents containing personal information (name, account numbers, social security number, birth date) before throwing them away. 
  5. Configure your computer and/or smartphone to require a password for use, and set another password for sensitive files. Use unique passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Do not use your birth date, a close relative's birth date, or a combination of letters and numbers on Splashdata's annual list of the most stolen passwords.
  6. Avoid using the same password for different accounts, and change your passwords once or twice per year.
  7. Install and update antivirus, anti-malware, and security programs on all computers, tablets, and smartphones.
  8. Don’t disclose information commonly used to verify your identity on social networking sites, such as date of birth, city of birth, mother’s maiden name, name of high school, etc. If you do, don't use that information to verify your identity.
  9. Avoid using credit or debit cards or conducting online banking transactions or making purchases, paying bills, or sending sensitive information over unsecured WiFi networks (e.g., any network without a password log-in, such as on trains, at airports, coffee shops, or hotels).
  10. Disable Bluetooth connections on devices when not in use.
  11. Watch out for “phishing” and other “social engineering” scams. Phishing is when identity thieves request personal information by pretending to be a legitimate entity, such as a bank or the IRS. Ignore unsolicited requests for personal information by email or over the phone, and only contact entities by means you know to be authentic. Do not contact an entity by clicking a link sent as part of an email requesting personal information, because phishers often link to authentic-looking, fake webpages. You can also call the phone number on the back of a card previously issued to you, or call the phone number on an old statement from that issuer. 
  12. Fight “skimmers.” Do not give your debit card to a restaurant server or anyone who could have a hand-held skimming device out of sight. When using an ATM, look for suspicious cameras and holes, and touch to confirm that extra parts (loose or slightly different colors) have not been installed over the card reader. Always cover your hand while hand typing a PIN, and avoid using ATMs in secluded locations.
  13. When accessing financial information on your smartphone, only use apps authorized by your bank or published by reputable app makers. Apps that show thousands of downloads are probably safe. Do not access apps on public open wi-fi.
  14. Place security, or credit freezes, on your credit report. Our separate “security freeze” tips explain how to guarantee peace of mind against new account identity theft by freezing your credit reports, then thawing them only when you are in the credit markets. A creditor will deny credit to an imposter who applies for credit using the name and Social Security Number of a consumer who has placed a freeze.

DETECTING IDENTITY THEFT

  1. Check your monthly statements for unauthorized charges. Be suspicious of phone calls about surprise debts.
  2. Sign up to receive email and/or text notifications of account activity and changes to account information.
  3. Instead of paying for over-priced subscription credit monitoring, use your free annual credit reports by law as your own credit monitoring service. Every 12 months, federal law gives you the right to receive one free credit report from each of the three main consumer reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Instead of requesting three at the same time, request one credit report from one of the bureaus every four months. Verify that the information is correct, and an account has not been opened without your knowledge. Free credit reports are available online at AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Seven states – Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Vermont also provide an additional free report by state law, available by contacting each bureau directly.

Types of Identity Theft:

Federal law recognizes two sorts of identity theft—existing account fraud and new account (account takeover) identity theft.

Existing Account Fraud: Victims of data breaches where only their account numbers were taken are well-protected by law, although victims of lost debit card numbers may face bounced checks and cash flow problems until the bank replaces their funds. The Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) provides for no liability if you notify the financial institution within 60 days if only your debit card numbers are stolen. However, if you actually llose a debit card or other device that can access your bank account, your liability could be up to $500 if you fail to notify the bank within 2 days of finding out about the loss and could increase even higher if you fail to notify the bank within 60 days. Under the separate Truth In Lending Act, credit card customers are always well protected by law, never facing liability of greater than $50 for fraudulent use of a card.

New Account Identity Theft: A thief who obtains your Social Security Number may attempt to open new accounts in your name. This form of identity theft is difficult to clear up. A thief who obtains your email address may contact you in a phishing scam to try and trick you into providing your SSN and birth date, which are the keys to new account identity theft. Thieves apply for credit with your name, your SSN and their own address. The creditor then obtains a credit report and issues credit to the thief.

Be Wary of New Types of Identity Theft: Note that online tax preparers and the IRS itself have been hacked, resulting in tax refund fraud. Health insurance data breaches may result in medical services theft. A federal agency, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), has recently been breached. Detailed security clearance dossiers that were taken provide thieves with the opportunity to commit new account identity theft and could subject victims to reputational risk and emotional harms, since information on possible marital affairs, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, previous arrests even without convictions, may have been taken.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU DETECT NEW ACCOUNT IDENTITY THEFT

Step 1: Notify your financial institutions.

If you discover that your wallet, checkbook, credit card or other sensitive information has been lost or stolen, immediately notify the issuing bank, credit card issuer, or relevant institution to close all existing accounts. 

Step 2: Get an Identify Theft Affidavit.

If you suspect identity theft, report it to the Federal Trade Commission using the online complaint form or by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT. When making the report, you will be given an option to receive an Identity Theft Affidavit. This document, together with the police report, will be critical to minimizing the damage.

Step 3: File a police report.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, file a report with your local police department. When you make the report, bring a copy of the Identity Theft Affidavit. The police report will be important for insurance purposes. Keep copies of the police report and Identity Theft Affidavit.

Step 4: Contact the three major credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your accounts. If you haven’t already, it’s time to place a security freeze.

An important next step is to place a fraud alert and a security freeze on your credit report. Placing a fraud alert tells businesses checking your credit rating that there may be fraud involved in the account. The fraud alert must be renewed after 90 days, and it entitles you to receive one free credit report from each of the main agencies. The security freeze stops anyone from seeing your credit report without your permission. Alerts and freezes can be placed by contacting the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies noted below. Initiating a credit freeze does not impact your credit score.

  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

Step 5: If your social security number was stolen, contact the Social Security Administration.

File a report and access resources at www.idtheft.gov. You can also call 1-800-772-1213.

MORE IDENTITY THEFT RESOURCES


 

Issue updates

Agency votes to begin rulemaking process to protect American children, firefighters from hazardous flame retardant chemicals

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

> Keep Reading

Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from TexPIRG Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of as many as 143 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Equifax Offers Incomplete Protection After Breach: Advocates Suggest What Else Consumers Can Do

Consumers should know the risks and limits of what Equifax is offering and consider getting credit freezes with all three national credit bureaus instead.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Equifax Breach Puts Millions at Risk of New ID Theft

The Equifax breach affecting over 140 million Americans appears to be the largest of its kind and is beyond troubling. The types of stolen information, including social security numbers and dates of birth, can be used to commit new account identity theft against all of these people. Additionally, stolen credit cards affecting over 200,000 people in this breach can also be used to commit existing account identity theft. 

Equifax should alert all affected people to the benefits of credit freezes and offer them to all Americans for free of charge with all three major national credit bureaus. For people who don’t want credit freezes, Equifax should offer free credit monitoring for an unlimited amount of time.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Agency votes to begin rulemaking process to protect American children, firefighters from hazardous flame retardant chemicals

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

> Keep Reading

Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from TexPIRG Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Equifax Offers Incomplete Protection After Breach: Advocates Suggest What Else Consumers Can Do

Consumers should know the risks and limits of what Equifax is offering and consider getting credit freezes with all three national credit bureaus instead.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Equifax Breach Puts Millions at Risk of New ID Theft

The Equifax breach affecting over 140 million Americans appears to be the largest of its kind and is beyond troubling. The types of stolen information, including social security numbers and dates of birth, can be used to commit new account identity theft against all of these people. Additionally, stolen credit cards affecting over 200,000 people in this breach can also be used to commit existing account identity theft. 

Equifax should alert all affected people to the benefits of credit freezes and offer them to all Americans for free of charge with all three major national credit bureaus. For people who don’t want credit freezes, Equifax should offer free credit monitoring for an unlimited amount of time.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Harvey Victims Threatened by Scams and Unfair Insurance Practices

AUSTIN—The Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) is warning consumers against potential scams and is advising consumers to take advantage of the resources available to them online from various legal groups.

TexPIRG notes FEMA has announced that homeowners and renters are getting robocalls telling them their flood premiums are past due. In order to have coverage for Hurricane Harvey, consumers are told they need to submit a payment immediately.

> Keep Reading

Pages

30 years of toy safety

For the past thirty years, our sister organization U.S. PIRG Education Fund has taken a close look at the safety of toys sold in stores. Their reports have led to more than 150 regulatory actions. In November 2015, they released our 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses. "Medical Debt Malpractice" is the latest (9th) in our series based on analysis of complaints in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public complaint database. The report demonstrates that the CFPB is a critical agency protecting consumers against unfair financial practices and needs to be defended against special interest attacks.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Predatory Loans & Predatory Loan Complaints

This is the seventh in a series of reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In this report, we explore consumer complaints about predatory loans, categorized in the database as payday loans, installment loans, and auto title loans.

> Keep Reading

Letter: Protecting the FTC from Special Interest Attacks

While much of our work has been in defense of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), we also support the efforts of the over-100 year old Federal Trade Commission.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

For 30 years, TexPIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get a Security Freeze before Your Information is Stolen

If and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit any form of identity theft (new account financial identity theft, theft of medical services, theft of tax refunds, etc.) there is really only one type of identity theft that you can stop before it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of as many as 143 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Is On The Job Protecting Consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

While powerful special interests, Senators, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and the White House call for dismantling the CFPB, firing its excellent director, or worse, CFPB continues to be an agency that is on the job, conducting business as usual to protect consumers. Its latest "Monthly Complaint Snapshot" is an open window into the many reasons we need a strong CFPB.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This week, CFPB Sues TCF Bank for overdraft schemes and loan servicer Navient for "failing" students | Ed Mierzwinski

Despite an escalation of threats to exterminate the Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau, CFPB continues to protect consumers well. This week it sued TCF Bank over deceptive overdraft marketing schemes and it sued Navient, the student loan servicer and Sallie Mae spinoff, for "failing" students at every step of the repayment process. The TCF complaint notes that its CEO brazenly named his boat "Overdraft."

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Report Finds 1 In 4 Consumers Feel "Threatened" By Debt Collector Tactics | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine for release of new CFPB data on debt collector abuses. Fully 1 in 4 consumers feel "threatened" by abusive, possibly illegal, debt collector tactics. The release also included an emphasis on problems with the "debt buyer" industry, comprised of firms that buy older, uncollected debt for as little as less than a penny on the dollar.

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Defend the CFPB

Tell your senators to oppose the “Financial CHOICE Act,” which would gut Wall Street reforms and destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as we know it.

Support Us

Your donation supports TexPIRG's work to stand up for consumers on the issues that matter, especially when powerful interests are blocking progress.

Consumer Alerts

Join our network and stay up to date on our campaigns, get important consumer updates, and take action on critical issues.
Optional Member Code