Identity Theft is the unauthorized use of personally identifying (ID) information, such as name, date of birth or social security number, to commit financial fraud. An identity thief may use someone’s personal identifiers to illegally obtain credit cards, open checking accounts, apply for loans, rent or purchase residences, establish services with utility companies or engage in other fraudulent activity.

Reduce your exposure to identity theft by following these simple guidelines:

  1. Use a cross-cut shredder. Before you throw anything away, examine the item (receipt, statement, bill, pre-approved credit card) to see if it has any sensitive information on it, such as your name, address, account numbers, social security numbers or things of that nature. If it does, make sure to shred it and properly dispose of it.
  2. Leave the checkbook and social security card at home. Never carry around your checkbook. If you know you will need a check, only take one and leave the rest at home. Also, make sure not to sign the check until you use it. Never carry around your social security card, this is a critical piece of information that needs to be safeguarded.
  3. Monitor your activity. Go through all of your bank and credit card statements every month. Make sure that every purchase on your statement was in fact made by you. If there is a discrepancy, notify your bank or credit card company immediately, so that proper precautions and procedures can be taken.
  4. Create complex passwords. Always create passwords that are hard to crack. Use a mixture of uppercase and lower case letters, as well as numbers and symbols in all of your passwords. Memorize all of your passwords. Never leave them on post-its visible on your desk.
  5. Be aware of phishing emails. Phishing emails are emails that look like they have been sent from a reputable company asking for personal information. A reputable company would never ask for personal information, such as a social security number, in an email.
  6. Be careful at the ATM. When entering your pin number at the ATM machine, be very cautious and careful that no one can see what you are entering into the machine.
  7. Order your credit report at least once a year. Go through your report thoroughly to see if there is any fraudulent activity. It is better to catch fraudulent activity early on so that you can eliminate bigger problems in the future. Monitor your credit history online for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.
  8. Do not give out personal information over the phone. If you receive a phone call and you are not sure who is on the other line, refrain from giving out any of your personal information. If the caller claims to be from a legitimate company you do business with, tell them you will call them back using the number on your statement or the back of your card.
  9. Use an anti-virus program on your computer. If a virus from the internet affects your computer, all of your personal and private information on that computer can be compromised. These programs help defend your computer from internet hackers.
  10. Create a security freeze with ChexSystems to ensure that your consumer file will not be realeased without your expressed authorization. All consumers who reside in the United States have the right to place a security freeze on their file.
    View more information about how to place a security freeze on your consumer file here.

What to do if you are a victim of identity theft

If you have been victimized by identity theft, you should take certain steps to protect yourself and minimize the consequences. Correcting the damage to your credit rating and good name may be a tedious and time-consuming process. As you speak to the contacts listed below, write down the names of the people you talk with, their positions, their responses and the dates and times of your conversations.

When sending correspondence through the mail, keep copies and use registered mail with a return receipt requested. The post office can help you with the procedures for registered mail.

Your local Police Department can take a report over the phone (in Chicago - 311), or go to your nearest Police District Facility. If it is an emergency, dial 911, and a district patrol car can be dispatched to respond. Once the report is made, it will take approximately two to five days for a detective from the Property Crimes Unit of the appropriate Detective Division Area to be assigned to the case. Shortly thereafter, the assigned Detective will contact you to start follow-up investigation.

Next, contact the three credit reporting agencies:

1-888-Experian (397-3742)

Equifax Fraud Victim

TransUnion Fraud

Contact all the utility companies that provide service to you to ensure that no other accounts are applied for or established in your name. The companies would include: gas, electricity, cable, water, phone (cellular companies, as well as standard phone), etc.

Contact the companies first by telephone and send a letter to each company by registered mail with return receipt, giving your names and your authorized accounts. Be sure to state that no other accounts in your name are authorized. The easiest way to do this is to create a form letter, with your name and address where the addressee and account number can be inserted as appropriate. Also, notify them of any personal ID numbers you would want on record.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, at 619-298-3396, offers tips for resolving problems associated with financial fraud.

The following agencies are some of the law enforcement agencies that also investigate identity theft cases.

Illinois State Police
312-636-2107 (9AM to 5PM)
800-476-8294 (24 hour duty desk)

Notify State Police if the dollar loss is at least $25,000 or the allegation involves misconduct by a public official or the offense is against a government agency and criminal intent is alleged.

Federal Bureau of Investigation
312-431-1333 (24 hour duty desk)

The local police or your assigned Detective should notify the FBI when the theft of an individual(s) identity is used to commit a bank fraud, governmental fraud or in furtherance of an investment scheme, insurance fraud, etc. involving losses over one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00).

U.S. Postal Inspection Service
312-983-7900 (24 hour duty desk)

The local police or your assigned Detective should notify the U.S. Postal Inspection Service if an individual is taken into custody for committing a Financial Crime involving the U.S. Mail. Postal Inspectors will make an immediate response to violations relating to Identity Theft, Forgery, Credit Cards and Checks, Mail Theft, Mail Fraud, and Internet Fraud (when the scheme involves use of the mail).

U.S. Secret Service
312-353-2774 (24 hour duty desk)

The local police or your assigned Detective should notify the Secret Service if there is any custody arrest of individuals associated with Identity Theft or Identity Takeover. The seizure or recovery of any amount of Identity Theft devices, equipment or products such as skimmers, counterfeit identification documents, counterfeit credit cards, or lists of personal identifiers (i.e. names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers.) The filing of a police report regarding any identity theft where there is a "monetary loss" by the victim.

Social Security Administration

You should notify the Social Security Administration if the misuse of the Social Security number involved Social Security program fraud or if there is significant financial loss to an individual or institution or if there is a significant number of counterfeit Social Security cards that are seized.

If you suspect your identity has been compromised, call 1-888-254-9500 for help.