Identity theft happens when someone uses your name, credit card number, Social Security number (SSN), password or other identifying data to make purchases, get cash or otherwise commit fraud. Unfortunately, millions of Americans become victims of identity theft each year.
Fraud alert: a notification that a credit reporting agency sends to creditors after you've reported being hit by identity theft. The alert advises creditors to follow certain precautions before opening new accounts in your name or making changes to your existing accounts.
If identity theft happens to you, it could affect your credit and inconvenience you for years to come. But there are ways you can help protect your personal information from being compromised and important steps you can take if you find yourself a victim of identity theft.
Identity thieves use a variety of ways to steal your personal information, including:
There are a number of relatively easy ways to guard against identity theft. For example:
The sooner you discover you’ve been hit by identity theft, the sooner you can act to prevent or limit potentially harmful consequences from occurring. So it pays to know the warning signs:
Keep tabs on your credit reports. Under federal law, every 12 months, you're entitled to get a free copy of your report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. To order a free report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877 322-8228. Once you receive the report, if it contains any accounts you don't recognize or information that is inaccurate, notify the CRAs and the company behind the account or information in question.
Consider subscribing to a fraud alert service offered by one of the CRAs. Also, check to see if your bank and credit card companies offer a service in which they will notify you if they spot unusual activity in your account.
If you suspect you’ve been hit by identity theft, here’s what to do:
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