College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Revised 05/12
Identity Theft
Simple Guide to Protecting Yourself
Evelyn Whitmer
Identity thieves are an unfortunate reality in our society.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity theft
tops the list at 37% of complaints. Thirteen percent of the
adult population are victims of fraud. It is important to
become aware of this problem and take steps to reduce your
risk of becoming a victim. An identity thief obtains some
piece of your sensitive information and uses it, without your
knowledge, to commit fraud or theft against you. Identity
theft is a serious crime. Victims have lost job opportunities;
been refused loans for education, housing or cars; or even
been arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. You cannot
completely control whether you will become a victim.
However, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),
you can minimize your risk by managing your personal
information cautiously and with heightened sensitivity.
How Identity Theft Occurs
Skilled thieves gain access to your personal information
¡ Getting information from businesses or other institutions
ž stealing records from their employer,
ž bribing an employee who has access to these
records, or
ž hacking into the organization’s computers.
¡Rummaging through your trash, or the trash of
businesses or dumps.
¡Obtaining credit reports by abusing their employer’s
authorized access to credit reports or by posing as a
landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a
legal right to the information.
¡Stealing credit and debit card numbers as your card is
processed by using a special information storage device
in a practice know as “skimming.”
¡Stealing wallets and purses containing identification and
credit and bank cards.
¡Stealing mail, including bank and credit card statements,
pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information.
¡Completing a “change of address form” to divert your
mail to another location.
¡Stealing personal information from your home.
¡Posing as a legitimate business person or government
Once the thieves have your information, they may go on
a spending spree or open new credit card accounts. When
they don’t pay the bills the delinquent account is reported
on your credit report. They may take out loans, obtain
wireless service, counterfeit checks or debit cards, open bank
accounts, file for bankruptcy under your name and give
your name to police during an arrest. (If they don’t show up
in court, an arrest warrant could be issued in your name.)
Ways to tell if you are a victim of identity
Monitor balances of your financial accounts. Look for
unexplained charges or withdrawals.
Other indications:
¡failing to receive bills or other mail signaling an address
change by the identity thief
¡receiving credit cards for which you did not apply and/or
denial of credit for no apparent reason
¡receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about
merchandise or services you didn’t buy
Steps to take
New accounts show up on your credit report. You
can obtain one free annual report from one or all of the
national consumer reporting companies; visit www.
annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.
Some of the inaccuracies on your credit report may be from
computer, clerical, or other errors and may not be a result of
identity theft. This is a good time to make sure your credit
reports are accurate. If your personal information has been
lost or stolen, you may want to check all of your reports
more frequently for the first year.
To buy a copy of your credit reports
Equifax: www.equifax.com
Experian: www.experian.com
1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
TransUnion: www.transunion.com
Steps to take to reduce your risk of
identity theft
¡Place passwords on your credit cards, bank and phone
¡Avoid using easily available information such as your
mother’s maiden name, birth date and the last four digits
of your social security number or your phone number.
(Try using a password instead.)
¡Secure personal information in your home.
¡Ask about security procedures in your workplace. Who
has access to your personal information? Are records
in a secure location? Ask about disposal procedures for
those records.
¡Do not give out personal information over the phone,
through mail, or over the internet unless you have
initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you
are dealing with.
¡Guard your mail and trash from theft. Deposit outgoing
mail in post office collection boxes or post office.
Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. Shred or
tear your charge receipts, copies of credit applications
or offers, insurance forms, physician statements, checks
and bank statements, and expired charge cards.
¡Before revealing any identifying information, ask how
it will be used and secured, and whether it will be
shared with others. Ask if you can choose to have the
information kept confidential.
¡Keep your Social Security card in a secure place. Ask
if you can substitute your social security number for
another number (employee ID number, driver’s licence)
¡Limit the identification information and the number of
credit and debit cards that you carry to what you actually
¡Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.
Safeguard your computer
¡Update virus protection software regularly.
¡Don’t download files from strangers or click on
hyperlinks from people you don’t know.
¡Use a firewall.
¡Use a secure browser-software that encrypts or scrambles
information you send over the Internet.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
¡Try not to store financial information on your laptop
unless absolutely necessary. If you do, use a “strong”
password — that is a combination of letters (upper and
lower case), numbers, and symbols.
¡Avoid using an automatic log-in feature that saves your
user name and password and always log off when you’re
¡Delete any personal information stored on your computer
before you dispose of it.
¡Read web site privacy policies which should contain
information about access security and control of your
personal information.
¡Report spam e-mail to http://www.ftc.gov/spam
What to do if your identity has been stolen
Take the following four steps right away:
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your
credit reports every three months during the first year.
¡ Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta GA 30374-0241.
¡ Experian: 1-888-397-3742; www.experian.com
P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013.
¡ TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com
Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O.
Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790.
2. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or
opened fraudulently.
3. File a report with your local police or the police in the
community where the identity theft took place.
4. File a complaint with the FTC: www.ftc.gov/idtheft or
call toll free 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) or write: Identity
Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600
Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
Reference and Websites of Interest
Farrell, Claudia Bourne, Office of Public Affairs, “FTC
Releases Top 10 Consumer Fraud Complaint Categories
Federal Trade Commission, “Consumer Fraud and Identity
Theft Complaint Data.” Washington, D.C., JanuaryDecember 2005.
h t t p : / / w w w. c o n s u m e r. g o v / s e n t i n e l / p
u b s/Top10Fraud2005.pdf
Federal Trade Commission, ID Theft, “TAKE CHARGE:
Fighting Back Against Identity Theft,” booklet.
Washington, D.C., June 2005. http://www.consumer.
Shanoff, Carolyn, Associate Director Federal Trade
Commission, “ID Theft, What’s it all about?” booklet.
Washington, D.C., 2004. http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/
The University of Arizona
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Tucson, Arizona 85721
Evelyn B. Whitmer, M.ED.
Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Evelyn Whitmer
[email protected]
This information has been reviewed by university faculty.
Originally published: 2007
Other titles from Arizona Cooperative Extension can be found at:
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jeffrey
C. Silvertooth, Associate Dean & Director, Economic Development & Extension, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, The University of Arizona.
The University of Arizona is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution. The University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion,
sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation in its programs and activities.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
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