Identity (ID) theft is a crime where a thief steals your personal information, such as your full name or social security number, to commit fraud. The identity thief can use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name. You may not know that you are the victim of ID theft until you experience a financial consequence (mystery bills, credit collections, denied loans) down the road from actions that the thief has taken with your stolen identity.
There are several common types of identity theft that can affect you:
Child ID theft - Children’s IDs are vulnerable because the theft may go undetected for many years. By the time they are adults, the damage has already been done to their identities.
Tax ID theft - A thief uses your social security number to falsely file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service or state government.
Medical ID theft - This form of ID theft happens when someone steals your personal information, such as your Medicare ID or health insurance member number to get medical services, or to issue fraudulent billing to your health insurance provider.
Senior ID theft - ID theft schemes that target seniors. Seniors are vulnerable to ID theft because they are in more frequent contact with medical professionals who get their medical insurance information, or caregivers and staff at long-term care facilities that have access to personal information or financial documents.
Social ID theft - A thief uses your name, photos, and other personal information to create a phony account on a social media platform.
Prevent Identity Theft
Take steps to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Secure your social security number (SSN). Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks.
- Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
- Contact the three credit reporting agencies to request a freeze of your credit reports.
- Collect mail promptly. Place a hold on your mail when you are away from home for several days.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
- Enable the security features on mobile devices, especially if you have contacts, banking websites and applications saved.
- Update sharing and firewall settings when you're on a public wi-fi network. Consider using a virtual private network, which can give you the privacy of secured private network.
- Review your credit card and bank account statements. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired credit cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
- Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases.
- Review your credit report once a year to be certain that it doesn't include accounts that you have not opened. You can order it for free from Annualcreditreport.com.
Report Identity Theft
Report identity (ID) theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338.
You will receive an identity theft report and a recovery plan. If you create an account on the website, you'll be able to update your recovery plan, track your progress, and receive prefilled form letters to send to creditors. If you decide not to create an account, you need to print or save your identity theft report and recovery plan. Without an account, you won't be able to access them on the website anymore. Download the FTC's publication, Taking Charge - What to do if Your Identity is Stolen for detailed tips, checklists, and sample letters.
You can report identity theft to the FTC by phone at 1-877-438-4338. The FTC will collect the details of your situation, but won't provide you with an ID theft report or recovery plan. You may also choose to report your identity theft to your local police station. It could be necessary if:
- You know the identity thief
- The thief used your name in any interaction with the police
- A creditor or another company affected by the identity theft requires you to provide a police report.
Report Specific Types of Identity Theft
You may also report specific types of identity theft to other federal agencies.
- Medical Identity Theft - Contact your health insurance company’s fraud department or Medicare’s fraud office.
- Tax Identity Theft - Report this type of ID theft to the Internal Revenue Service and your state’s Department of Taxation or Revenue.
Report Identity Theft to Other Organizations
In addition to federal government agencies, you should also report the theft to other organizations, such as:
- Credit Reporting Agencies - Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies to place fraud alerts or freezes on your accounts so that no one can apply for credit with your name or social security number. Also get copies of your credit reports, to be sure that no one has already tried to get unauthorized credit accounts with your personal information. Confirm that the credit reporting agency will alert the other two credit reporting agencies.
- Long-term care ombudsman - Report cases of identity theft that resulted from a stay in a nursing home or long-term care facility.
- Financial Institutions - Contact the fraud department at your bank, credit card issuers and any other places where you have accounts.
- Retailers and Other Companies - Report the crime to companies where the identity thief opened credit accounts or even applied for jobs.
- State Consumer Protection Offices or Attorney General - Your state may offer resources to help you contact creditors, dispute errors and other helpful resources.
You may need to get new personal records or identification cards if your identity was stolen. Learn how to replace your vital identification documents, after identity theft.
Medical ID Theft
Medical identity theft can occur when someone steals your personal identification number to obtain medical care, buy medication, or submit fake claims to your insurer or Medicare in your name.
Report Medical Identity Theft
If you believe you have been a victim of medical identity theft, call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338 (TTY: 1-866-653-4261) and your health insurance company’s fraud department. You can create a complaint form with the details of your experience at IdentityTheft.gov to share with them and with law enforcement.
If you suspect that you have been the victim of Medicare fraud, contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General at 1-800-447-8477.
Prevent Medical Identity Theft
Take these steps to prevent medical identity theft:
- Guard your Social Security, Medicare, and health insurance identification numbers. Only give your number to your physician or other approved health care providers.
- Review your explanation of benefits or Medicare Summary Notice to make sure that the claims match the services you received. Report questionable charges to your health insurance provider or Medicare.
- Request and carefully review a copy of your medical records for inaccuracies and conditions that you don’t have.
Tax-Related Identity Theft
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security Number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. These tips can help you prevent and report tax identity theft:
To prevent tax identity theft, be wary of any Internal Revenue Service (IRS) letter or notice that states:
- More than one tax return was filed using your SSN
- You owe additional tax, you have had a tax refund offset, or you have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
- IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you
The IRS does not initiate contact with a taxpayer by sending an email, text, or social message requesting personal or financial information.
- Should you get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, you should report it to the IRS.
- The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) provides alerts and tips on how you can protect yourself against U.S. tax season phishing scams and malware campaigns.
Dealing with Tax-Related Identity Theft
If you suspect someone used your Social Security Number (SSN) for a tax refund or a job—or the IRS sends you a letter or notice indicating a problem—take these steps:
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can also call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338 or TTY 1-866-653-4261.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records:
- Contact your financial institutions, and close any accounts opened without your permission or tampered with.
- Respond immediately to any IRS notice; call the number provided. If instructed, go to the Identity Verification Service.
- Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit; print, then mail or fax according to instructions.
- Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.
Taxpayer ID Theft: Use IRS.gov to Verify Your Identity
The IRS stops and flags suspicious or duplicate federal tax returns that falsely represent your identity, such as your name or social security number. If the IRS suspects tax ID theft, the agency will send a 5071C letter to your home address. If you receive this letter, verify your identity at idverify.irs.gov or call the toll free number listed in the letter.
If you are a victim of state tax ID theft, contact your state's taxation department or comptroller's office about the next steps you need to take.
The IRS provides more information about IDVerifyIRs.gov and your 5071C letter.