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What is identity theft?
Identity theft is the use of another person’s personal information to commit fraud without their knowledge or permission. The most common type of identity (ID) theft is financial fraud where perpetrators gather personal information—names, Social Security numbers, addresses, account numbers, passport information—to use or open accounts for their own personal gain.
Who is the prime target for ID theft? You!
As a student, you will receive many credit card offers. Credit card companies want to sign you up early in your college career and keep you as a lifetime customer. At the same time, you become a prime target for ID thieves, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Criminals count on you not following simple preventive steps that you must take to protect your credit status.
Follow the 3 D’s: deter, detect, defend
Deter: protect your information
- Never throw away credit card offers or other information that has personal identifying information; always shred them.
- You’ll be an easy target if you don’t keep all your sensitive documents secure, especially documents that have your social security number listed on them such as your student loans.
- Do not carry your social security card in your wallet or write it on your check. When asked to reveal this information, ask for what purpose and how they protect your information.
- Do not use obvious passwords such as your birth date, mother’s maiden name, or last 4 digits of your social security number.
- Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the internet unless you have initiated the contact and know who you are dealing with.
Detect: routinely monitor your financial accounts and billing statements
- Be sure to check your bank and credit card statements carefully.
- Be suspicious if you do not receive mail or bills that do not arrive as expected.
- Denials of credit for no reason.
- Review your credit bureau report(s) at least once a year. You are able to get a free credit report once a year per federal law. Free Annual Credit Report
Defend: what to do if you have a problem
Under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for receiving and processing complaints from people who believe they may be victims of identity theft, providing informational materials to those people, and referring those complaints to appropriate entities, including the major credit reporting agencies and law enforcement agencies. For further information, please check the FTC’s identity theft Web pages. You can also call your local office of the FBI or the U.S. Secret Service to report crimes relating to identity theft and fraud. The Federal Trade Commission has a toll-free phone number at 1-877-382-4357 and an online complaint form. At a minimum make sure to:
- File a report on the theft with your local police department.
- Notify all three credit bureaus and place fraud alerts on your credit report. (Please note: Typically you can contact one credit bureau and they will alert the other credit bureaus of the fraud.)
- Contact your creditors and close your accounts. Also, talk with your bank about whether to close other accounts or take other steps.
- Report stolen checks to check verification agencies.
- File a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission
- Be sure you follow through on all fronts (merchant, bank, credit bureaus, law enforcement). If you get verbal agreements for resolution, request a statement in writing.
- Don’t assume someone else is taking care of the issue for you.
For additional suggestions on how to protect yourself, visit these helpful resources:
- Student Aid and Identity Theft: Safeguard Your Student Aid Information, U. S. Department of Education.
- Identity Theft Repair Kit, Arizona Attorney General
- Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Dept of Education
- Deter-Detect-Defend-Avoid ID Theft campaign, Federal Trade Commission
- Identity Theft and Fraud, U. S. Department of Justice
To alert consumers to fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair practices in the marketplace, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers guidelines and services to help you avoid unscrupulous vendors of scholarship search products. Remember: You should not have to pay for a scholarship.
If an identity thief has obtained a student loan in your name, report it in writing to the school that opened the loan. Request that the account be closed. Also report it to the U.S. Dept. of Education Inspector General’s hot line.
Test your knowledge
OnGuardOnline, a government web site has some fun and quick games to play to test your knowledge about identity theft.