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Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. While you can't entirely control whether you will become a victim, you can take steps to protect yourself.
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Order a copy of your credit report. An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports, at your request, once every 12 months.
Under federal law, you're also entitled to a free report if a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance or employment, and you request your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company that supplied the information about you. You're also entitled to one free report a year if you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days; you're on welfare, or your report is inaccurate because of fraud. Otherwise, a consumer reporting company may charge you up to $9.50 for any other copies of your report.
If you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports.
You may be careful about locking your doors and windows and keeping your personal papers in a secure place. Depending on what you use your personal computer for; an identity thief may not need to set foot in your house to steal your personal information. You may store your Social Security number, financial records, tax returns, birth date, and bank account numbers on your computer. These tips can help you keep your computer - and the personal information it stores - safe.
If you are a member of the military and away from your usual duty station, you may place an active duty alert on your credit reports to help minimize the risk of identity theft while you are deployed. Active duty alerts are in effect on your report for one year. If your deployment lasts longer, you can place another alert on your credit report. When you place an active duty alert, you'll be removed from the credit reporting companies' marketing list for pre-screened credit card offers for two years unless you ask to go back on the list before then.
Beginning December 5, 2006, companies must not print your credit or debit card expiration date or more than the last 5 digits of your card number on your electronic receipt. Some businesses must make this change sooner, depending on the way they process credit card transactions. The law will allow receipts that are handwritten or mechanically imprinted to show your entire number and expiration date, even after December 4, 2006.
Your employer and financial institutions will need your Social Security number for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may ask you for your Social Security number to do a credit check if you are applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or signing up for utilities. Sometimes, however, they simply want your Social Security number for general record keeping. If someone asks for your Social Security number, ask:
If you don't provide your Social Security number, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want. Getting satisfactory answers to these questions will help you decide whether you want to share your Social Security number with the business. The decision to share is yours.
If you believe that your identity has been stolen: