Identity Theft Awareness Week

January 29 through February 2 is Identity Theft Awareness Week, a time when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides educational materials to help raise understanding and awareness of the crime of identity theft.

If someone uses your personal information to open accounts, steal your tax refund, or file fake health insurance claims, that is identity theft. It can happen to anyone. Identity thieves obtain your information by

  • Going through your mailbox or trash;
  • Stealing your wallet or purse;
  • Scamming you into revealing personal information;
  • By pretending to be a representative from your place of work, your bank, or even a government agency.

There are a few simple steps can help lessen the chance it will happen to you. The FTC offers these five habits to develop in order to avoid identity theft.

  1. Read your bank and credit card statements carefully and in a timely manner. Do not allow a statement to sit for weeks or months without reviewing it.
  2. Know your payment due dates. If a bill does not arrive by the time it should, contact the company and find out why. It may be simply lost in the mail. But, a thief may have changed your billing address or stolen your mail for their nefarious purposes.
  3. Read statements sent from your health insurance plan to make sure that only medical services you received have been submitted to your insurance company for payment.
  4. Shred all documents with your personal or financial information.
  5. Review each of your three credit reports at least once a year. If there are errors in a report, take steps to correct the report.

Taking the above steps are helpful to avoid identity theft, but are not absolute. How would you know if your identity has been stolen?

  • A new credit card account, loan, or utility service (water, gas electric) appears on your credit report. The FTC recommends reviewing your free credit report at
  • Unauthorized transactions occur in your bank or credit card accounts.
  • You receive a notice from the state unemployment department or an employer that a claim has been opened in your name.
  • You receive a notice from the IRS that more than one tax return has been filed in your name or that you have income from an employer where you don’t work.

You may receive notification from your bank or other financial service that their data has been breached. Or, you may hear a news story about a store that you frequent had a breach. What should you do if this happens? If you suspect that your personal information was exposed during a data breach, act immediately to change your passwords, add a security alert to your credit reports and consider placing a security freeze on your credit reports. In order to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report, you will need to report to the local police department. This police report will be submitted to each of the three major credit bureaus.

If you have been notified by the business that experienced the breach, call the business to confirm they sent the notice, read their documentation carefully and consider following their recommendations. If you have not been notified of a breach, but suspect one, contact the business immediately. The FTC has a website,, that is designed to walk you through the steps needed to resolve identity theft.

Identity theft can happen to anyone at any age. Paying close attention to your financial information will help keep you safe. If your data is compromised, paying close attention will help you learn of the problem sooner than later—making it less difficult to resolve the situation.