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Illinois State University

What to do if you're a victim of identity theft?

Identity theft is a serious crime. If you think you're a victim of identity theft, you should act quickly—the faster you notify the appropriate authorities, the better off you will be.

What is identity theft?

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), "identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes."

How can identity theft happen?

Identity theft can happen whenever someone gets enough of your personal information. If you lose your wallet or purse, an untrustworthy person who finds it could use the information to order new credit cards, apply for loans, make online purchases, and commit other crimes.

Phishing scams lead to identity theft as well. A phishing email is designed to look like it was sent from a trusted company like eBay or your bank. The email uses threats or promises to lure you into going to a bogus website. Once on the site, you are often instructed to "update your user data". 

You are asked to provide all kinds of information, like your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, social security number, etc. Once you submit the web form, the phishing scammers have your personal info and they can use it to commit identity theft.

What are the consequences of identity theft?

Once an identity thief has your personal information, he or she can use it to cause you major problems. These consequences can ruin your credit rating, drain your bank account, and cause hardship for you for years to come.

  • Spending spree - The criminal may make expensive purchases that are easy to sell on the street for cash.
  • New credit cards - It is easy to get new credit cards. With minimal difficulty, new credit cards can be ordered in your name.
  • Use existing credit cards - If they have your credit card numbers, thieves can use them to make purchases.
  • Change your address - Your billing or mailing address could be changed by the thieves to hide their activities.
  • Take out loans - The identity thieves could take out loans in your name. Of course, they have no intention of ever paying the loans back.
  • Service sign-up - The thieves might sign up for services, like phone or broadband service, in your name.
  • Bad checks - A checking account could be opened in your name that would allow the thieves to write bad checks under your name.

What should I do if I'm a victim of identity theft?

If you think you're a victim of identity theft, here's what you should do:

  1. Put a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting one of the three consumer reporting agencies. Having a fraud alert on your credit report means you will be contacted for authorization before any new accounts can be opened in your name or any changes can be made to your existing accounts.
  2. Close the account(s) you believe have been tampered with. You should cut off the identity thieves as soon as possible.
  3. Contact the police and file a report. Identity theft is a serious crime, and you should contact the authorities to report the crime.
  4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC works with the police in matters of identity thefts. Filing a report with the FTC also helps the government better track and respond to identity thievery.

Important! You should move quickly. The faster you act, the less time the identity thieves have to take advantage of your personal information.

Some of the information above was taken from the FTC. For more information and to get help with fraud alerts and filing complaints, we strongly recommend you visit the Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft

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