Data theft occurs when someone obtains key pieces of your personal identifying information. Identity theft occurs when that information is used for any fraudulent or other unlawful purpose. The unlawful
acquisition of personal identifying information does not necessarily mean that identity theft has occurred. This distinction is important when considering any response you might wish to make to the disclosure
of your Social Security number.
Responding to Data Theft
One proactive measure to consider is placing a "fraud alert" on your file with the three major credit bureaus (see table below). This free service requests that any creditor contact you by
phone at a designated number before opening a new account. The time an alert stays on your record varies for each credit bureau; however, you can request that the fraud alert be reinstated after the initial
period has ended. In addition, you should qualify for a free copy of your credit report. Review your credit reports carefully to ensure no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized
changes made to your existing accounts.
You may wish to order additional copies of your credit reports in the future
to monitor your credit profile. If you've been declined credit, employment or
housing in the last 60 days, you can receive these reports for free. If not,
you cannot be charged more than $9 plus any applicable taxes for your basic
Major Credit Bureaus
changes in the law may soon make it possible for you to obtain your credit
report for free. For more information, please visit the Federal
Trade Commission's page on obtaining your credit report for free,
instead of contacting the three credit bureaus individually. Avoid ordering
credit reports from credit agencies over the Internet, since many sites
that seem to offer you a free credit report may actually attempt to charge
you or require you to buy additional services to get the report. Telephone
or mail contact may be the most reliable method. Be cautious if
requested to provide personal information over the Internet unless you
are absolutely sure of the validity of the site.
If your personal identifying information is being used by someone else for fraudulent or criminal purposes, such as applying for a credit card or obtaining loans in your name, making unauthorized purchases,
or gaining access to your bank accounts or other private information, you can follow the steps below:
If you find any fraudulent accounts or unauthorized access on your record, contact the security departments of the creditors or financial institutions that granted the credit and close these accounts.
If you discover misuse of your Social Security number, contact the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
If your personal information is being used for fraudulent or criminal purposes, file a report with the police. Keep a copy of the police report in case you need proof of the crime to show the bank,
credit card company, or others.
If you are a victim of identity theft, you can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by Internet: www.consumer.gov/idtheft/
(click File a Complaint from the menu at the left); Telephone: 1-877-438-4338; or TDD: 202-326-2502.
Keep a record of all communications with credit bureaus, creditors, financial institutions, and police, including dates.
These Internet sites provide information on steps you can take to protect your credit and identity.
Attorney General of Texas www.oag.state.tx.us/consumer/idtheft.shtml
This official Attorney General of Texas site is a good starting point for learning about personal data and identity theft. It also provides tips on how to protect yourself against different types of credit
Social Security Administration www.ssa.gov/pubs/idtheft.htm
The Social Security Administration is the government agency responsible for issuing and managing Social Security numbers. The agency's official site walks you through who to contact, when, and why. It
also links to two useful fact sheets:
Department of Justice www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/idtheft.html
The Department of Justice site describes what can happen if you are a victim of data theft or identity fraud. It provides logical steps for action, tips for reducing your risk of fraud, and phone numbers,
addresses, and links to credit bureaus and other governmental agencies you may need to contact.
Federal Trade Commission www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheft.htm
This site provides a document titled ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name that includes information on steps to follow if you are a victim of identity theft.
ID Theft Information www.consumer.gov/idtheft/
This is the U.S. government's central Web site for information about identity theft, maintained by the Federal Trade Commission, offering government reports, consumer updates, and links to other sites.