The New York State Department of State Division of Consumer Protection Consumer's Guide to Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft (pdf) provides general information on how consumers can protect themselves. Steps to prevent identity theft are detailed below.
Check Your Credit Reports Regularly
Learn about credit reports, how to read them and where to request your credit report for free. Checking your credit report regularly can help you detect if you've fallen victim to identity theft.
Accounts listed on your credit report that you do not recognize may indicate that you have become a victim of identity theft. The next section contains specific information related to credit reports, credit scores and identity theft.
What is a Credit Report and How is it Used?
A credit report contains detailed information about a person's credit history, including credit accounts and loans, bankruptcies and late payments and recent inquiries. Credit reports are compiled by three major companies known as credit reporting agencies.
Typically, when a consumer applies for credit, the prospective lender obtains the applicant's credit report to help determine creditworthiness. The information in a credit report is one of several factors that help lenders determine whether to offer credit, and on what terms, such as interest rate, annual percentage rate, grace period and other contractual obligations of the credit card or loan. This information is also used to generate a credit score, which is explained in greater detail below.
Requesting FREE Credit Reports
Consumers are entitled to one free credit report every twelve months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. The official website from which consumers can request their free annual credit report is www.annualcreditreport.com.
Credit Reports and Identity Theft
One of the first steps you should take if you fall victim to identity theft is to notify any one of the three credit reporting agencies. The credit reporting agency you notify is responsible for informing the other two agencies on your behalf. You may want to consider notifying all three agencies to ensure they are aware of your situation.
A consumer can place a Fraud Alert or a Security Freeze on their credit report to help prevent further victimization. The New York State Department of State Division of Consumer Protection offers resources to assist consumers in understanding how to place a Fraud Alert or Security Freeze, and the difference between the two tools.
Understanding the Difference Between a Fraud Alert and a Security Freeze
Unraveling the mystery behind credit reports
Read the Division's basic resource to help consumers learn more about a credit report. The resource also explains how to contest and correct inaccurate credit report entries.
What is a Credit Score?
The three major credit reporting agencies will, for a fee, also provide your credit score -- a number that is calculated based on information in your credit report. A credit score is intended to measure a consumer's credit worthiness and is a snapshot of his or her credit risk at a particular time. Credit-scoring methods typically give greater weight to recent history than past history.
Each credit reporting agency offers a different type of credit score to consumers. The most widely used credit score, called a "FICO score," ranges from 300 to 850. A higher score means less credit risk. You are entitled to get your credit score from your lender free of charge when applying for a mortgage. Your credit score will be adversely affected if negative, incorrect information on your credit report goes uncorrected.
Keep Your Personally Identifying Information Private
If someone steals your Social Security number or other personally identifying information, the thief may try to use the data to open credit card accounts and other financial accounts in your name. Learn how to keep your personally identifying information private. Additionally, take note of how to safeguard the identity of a deceased loved one.
Identity thieves obtain personally identifying information in myriad ways, such as stealing bank and credit card statements from mailboxes; using surveillance or eavesdropping in public places to obtain the victim's financial account numbers and passwords; searching through a victim's trash for discarded documents and mail; filing change of address forms to redirect a victim's mail to another location; using devices to record data from the magnetic strip on credit and debit cards; stealing personal information from a victim's place of business, doctor's office or school; purchasing the victim's identity information on the black market; using e-mail spamming and phishing; or, by accessing the files on a victim's computer.
The New York State Department of State Division of Consumer Protection urges consumers to keep their personally identifying information secure at all times to stave off victimization.
Things You Should Know About Your Social Security Number
Learn why and how to protect your Social Security number in the marketplace and at work
Learn about the appropriate timeframe to dispose of various types of documents and how to protect your personal information by disposing of documents safely
Tax Filing and Privacy Tips
Remember these important tips when preparing and filing tax returns
Consumer Bill of Rights Regarding Tax Preparers (pdf)
Most tax preparers act within the law and treat their clients fairly. But there are some who don't. This brochure contains important information about how to protect yourself when you hire a tax preparer
Automated Teller Machine (ATM) Safety
Learn tips to use an ATM safely
Protect the Identity of a Deceased Loved One
Identity thieves sometimes use the personally identifying information of a deceased person to commit fraud. Reduce this risk by following the steps outlined in this resource
Protecting Your Child's Identity
Learn how to safeguard your child's personally identifying information
Protecting Yourself Online
Learn how to safeguard your personally identifying information while online
Protecting Yourself When Online
Safeguard Your Child's Identity
Armed Forces and Veterans
Have you recently received any unexpected credit cards or account statements in the mail? Have the bills you expected to get in the mail stopped coming? Are you receiving calls or letters about purchases you did not make? Are you being rejected for credit for no apparent reason? These are all signs that you may have fallen victim to identity theft.
Active military personnel, veterans and their families can be particularly vulnerable to identity theft and fraud due to nonstandard work schedules, lengthy absences from home, frequent relocations and duty assignments to remote locations.
The Division of Consumer Protection suggests the following tips to help prevent our service men and women from falling victim to identity theft and to assist in mitigating the consequences of identity theft. Learn more here.
Tax-Related Identity Theft
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses the Social Security number of another person to file a tax return to fraudulently receive a tax refund or gain employment. It can also happen if someone claims your child as a dependent on a tax return. Here is what consumers should know about tax-related identity theft