FAQs: Identity Theft and Management

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Who is at risk for identity theft?

Everyone is at risk for identity theft. According to Center for Identity research, however, certain demographic groups such children, veterans, older adults, and small businesses are particularly vulnerable.

What are the different types of identity theft?

  • Financial identity theft. A thief can use information such as account passwords, Social Security numbers, and credit card numbers to steal your financial identity. Thieves use this information to open bank accounts and credit cards in your name, make fraudulent purchases and charges using your existing accounts, and flat out steal your money.
  • Medical identity theft. Your medical identity is made up of all your health, insurance, prescription, and treatment information. A thief can use prescription bottles, Social Security numbers, health insurance information, and hospital receipts to steal your medical identity. Thieves use this information to get prescription drugs, visit doctors, file insurance claims, get Medicare benefits, and make fraudulent medical charges.
  • Tax identity theft. Identity thieves can use your Social Security number to steal your tax refund or get jobs without having to pay taxes.
  • Child identity theft. Thieves steal children's personally identifiable information (especially Social Security numbers) to open accounts, make fraudulent charges, sign up for government services and benefits, and rent apartments. Since most people don't check their credit until they want to rent an apartment, get a credit card, or apply for a loan, a child's identity theft could go undetected for years.
  • Small business identity theft. Thieves try to get the personally identifiable information of companies, customers, or employees from small businesses in order to sign up for fake accounts and steal money. Small businesses are easier to steal from than larger companies, and thieves know that small businesses have more credit or cash on hand than individuals.

What should I do if I am a victim of identity theft?

First and foremost, check your credit report. Contact the three biggest credit reporting agencies (CRAs):

Keep records of all your calls and letters to these companies.

Ask the first CRA you contact to place a fraud alert on your credit report, and then ask them to inform the other two CRAs. Then, ask each CRA to remove any fraudulent accounts, collection notices, and account inquiries that use your name or Social Security number. Follow up with all three CRAs to ensure your credit report is cleared of any inaccurate information.

File a fraud report with the federal government. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4348 or file the report online.

File a report with your local police, especially if your identity is used for medical or tax fraud.

More detailed information on identity theft recovery can be found in the Center for Identity's Identity Recovery Toolkit.

What are my financial privacy rights?

You can tell financial companies not to share or sell your private information. This is called "opting out." Check each financial company's privacy policy to learn more about opting out.

Insurance, loan, and credit card companies will frequently send you "prescreened" offers for their services and products, even if you didn't ask for them. These companies can access your private financial information without you knowing unless you opt out of prescreened offers. To opt out, call 888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688).

What should I do if I’m a financial identity theft victim?

First and foremost, check your credit report. Contact the three biggest credit reporting agencies (CRA):

Keep records of all your calls and letters to these companies.

Ask the first CRA you contact to place a fraud alert on your credit report, and then ask them to inform the other two CRAs. Then, ask each CRA to remove any fraudulent accounts, collection notices, and account inquiries that use your name or Social Security number. Follow up with all three CRAs to ensure your credit report is cleared of any inaccurate information.

Create an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-438-4348. You can also file the report online. This report helps you dispute fraudulent charges, stop collectors from contacting you about fraudulent debts, and get mistakes removed from your credit report.

What are my medical privacy rights?

The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that protects your health information and medical privacy. This law requires insurance companies, medical providers, and other companies to keep your personally identifiable information safe and secure. The law also limits who can see your private medical information.

When you visit a doctor's office, the hospital, or another health care provider, they usually will ask you to sign a HIPAA consent form. Make sure to read the form and get a copy for your records.

What are the warning signs of medical identity theft?

Watch out for things like:

  • Incorrect information on your health insurance and medical records
  • Bills and collection notices for medical services you never received
  • Surprising notices that you have maxed out your health benefits

These can often be warning signs of medical identity theft. If you find a mistake or get strange notices, contact the medical provider to find out why.

How can I protect myself from medical identity theft?

You can help protect yourself from medical identity theft by keeping a few things in mind:

  • File your medical records, insurance information, and prescription information in a safe and secure place
  • Shred any paper documents when discarding them
  • Tear off the labels from prescription bottles before throwing them away

More information on protecting yourself from all types of identity theft is available in our Identity Protection Toolkit.

What should I do if I’m a medical identity theft victim?

If you believe you have been the victim of medical identity theft, contact all of your medical companies and providers (insurance companies, prescription companies, doctors, pharmacies, and clinics) and order copies of your records. If you find any mistakes, ask for the record to be corrected.

Immediately contact your local police and file a report.

What are the warning signs of tax identity theft?

If you fear your tax identity may have been stolen, there are three big warning signs from the IRS you can look for:

  • A letter confirming you filed your taxes, but you haven't filed yet
  • A statement informing you that a refund has been disbursed in your name, but you have received no such check
  • A notice that you failed to properly report income on your tax return, but you are certain you reported correctly

If you get any of these notices, contact the IRS immediately by calling 800-908-4490.

How can I protect myself from tax identity theft?

The best way to prevent tax identity theft is to protect your Social Security number. Identity thieves use other people's Social Security numbers to claim tax refunds from the IRS and get jobs without having to pay taxes.

Tax identity theft increases around tax time and thieves often use email, social media, and Web sites to steal personal information.

The IRS will never send you a message requesting personal or financial information over the Internet.

What are my rights for protecting my child’s identity at school?

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives parents the right to restrict how much of a child's personally identifiable information can be shared with third parties.

FERPA requires your child's school to send home annual notices explaining your family's privacy rights. These rights allow you to review your child's education records and ask for any mistakes to be corrected.

You can also ask the school to leave your child's PII out of directories and other contact lists. If your child takes part in any other activities (sports, band, etc.), see if their personal information or picture is available to the public or will be shared.

In addition, you can ask the school which faculty members have access to your child's PII (teachers, counselors, administrators, etc.) and how they will protect it.

What are the warning signs of child identity theft?

There are several common signs that your child may be the victim of identity theft:

  • Your child has an active credit report
  • You get bills or collection notices for things you didn't order or buy; these notices may be addressed to your child
  • You get turned down for government services because someone else is getting paid with your child's Social Security number
  • You receive a notice from the IRS that your child's Social Security number showed up on someone else's tax return

If you spot any of these warning signs, follow the steps for identity theft victims.

How can I protect my child from identity theft?

In order to protect your child from potential identity theft, follow these recommended guidelines:

If you must share your child's PII online, make sure you're on a secure Internet connectionand an encrypted Web site. You can also verify that your computer has antivirus and anti-spyware software installed, and that the Web site in question will protect your child's information.

When you make an annual check on your own credit report, take a moment to see if your child has a credit report as well. Make especially sure to check before your child turns 16 so you have time to fix any issues before they turn 18.

Be careful with your child's personal identifiable information, especially their Social Security number.Don't share your child's PII with anyone, including their school and their doctor's office, unless you know why they need it and how they will protect it.

Keep all documents (electronic and paper) containing your child's PII secure. Shred any paper documents with your child's PII before throwing them away. Never send your child's PII over email.

What should I do if my child is an identity theft victim?

If you think your child has been the victim of identity theft, first check to see if your child has a credit report. You can do this by contacting the three biggest credit reporting agencies:

Keep records of all your calls and letters to these companies.

How can I protect my small business from identity theft?

There are five strategies you can follow to protect your small business from identity theft:

Make a plan to protect your business. Use specific steps and checklists for preventing and recovering from identity theft.

Protect all of your business's paper documents. Keep documents secure in your office, shred them before throwing them away, and never give out personally identifiable information for your employees or the company unless you've contacted the requesting organization first.

Protect your business's online information. Don't post any employee information—especially PII—on the web or social media sites. That can include email addresses, account numbers, or personnel information. Install antivirus software on all company computers.

Don't use a "master" user account and password for employee and company information. Doing so makes targeting your secure information far simpler for cyberthieves.

Check your business's credit report regularly. Keep records of all your calls and letters to any of the three biggest credit reporting agencies (CRAs):

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Funded by a partnership with the Texas Legislature, and powered by the Center for Identity, IDWise is a resource center for the public on identity theft, fraud, and privacy. IDWise offers clear and accessible resources to empower citizens—both online and offline—to be better informed and make smarter choices to protect their personal information.

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