Identity theft

Credit & Lending

Defining identity theft

Identity theft is the unlawful use of an individual's personal identification information. Identity thieves steal information such as your name, Social Security number, driver's license information, or bank and credit card accounts and use the information to establish credit, make purchases, apply for loans, or even seek employment.

For more specific information about how to protect your personal information from identity thieves:

You can also consult the Federal Trade Commission's guidance:

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft

Dear New Yorker:

Besides a general desire for personal privacy and to be "left alone," there are very legitimate reasons why people act to decrease the personal information easily accessible about themselves.

The fastest growing financial crime in the nation — identity theft — is one important reason. Identity theft is when someone uses your personal identification information, such as your credit card number or Social Security number, to obtain something of value.

It takes very little to have your identity stolen. Only a few pieces of information can give a thief the ability to, for example, get a credit card in your name and leave you to deal with the bills.

If you believe someone has been using your name or personal information to make purchases, to get credit, or to obtain employment, act right away to protect yourself.

Depending on your specific situation, our office has developed the following recommendations for your immediate action. If you have any further concerns, please contact our consumer help line at 1-800-771-7755.

Immediately contact the creditor associated with the fraudulent activity both by telephone and then with a follow-up letter expressly stating the problem.

Lost or stolen credit cards: Federal law limits your liability to $50 for unauthorized charges to your account.

Lost or stolen ATM/debit cards: Federal law provides that your liability for unauthorized debits is limited to $50 so long as you report the loss of the card within two business days of discovering that it is missing. Otherwise, your liability increases to $500 for reporting it within 60 days. If you fail to report it within that period, however, your liability could be unlimited.

Once you report the loss of the credit or debit card, you cannot be held responsible for any additional unauthorized charges.

Fraudulent charges on your monthly statements: If you believe there are fraudulent or erroneous charges on your existing credit account, contact your creditor immediately. Federal regulations require credit card companies to remove disputed items from your bill to investigate. It is important to note, however, that all disputes must be put in writing.

Password accounts: If you have closed a credit card account due to fraud and have opened a new account,  insist on password-only accounts.


Immediately call the fraud help lines of each of the three major credit bureaus to inform them of the situation. Be sure to tell the credit bureaus to flag your file with a  fraud alert  or security freeze, including a statement that creditors should call you for permission before opening any new accounts in your name.

Trans Union Fraud Victim Assistance Department 
P.O. Box 2000
Chester PA 19016-2000
Phone: 1-800-680-7289

Experian Consumer Fraud Assistance 
P.O. Box 9556
Allen TX 75013 
Phone: 1-888-397-3742

Equifax Consumer Fraud Division 
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta GA 30374
Phone: 1-800-525-6285

Under federal law, victims of fraud are entitled to receive  a free copy of their credit reports. We advise you to exercise this right immediately.

Inquire into the credit bureau's procedures for having a statement attached to fraudulent information in your file so that future potential creditors are aware of this.

Place a security freeze on your file to prevent further damage to your credit history.

Report any fraudulent activity to the appropriate police and sheriff departments with jurisdiction in your area. Be sure to keep a copy of the police report because financial institutions often require verification that there was a purported crime before they will continue an investigation.

The  Federal Trade Commission offers assistance to identity theft victims at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) or

If you believe any of your checks have been stolen or fraudulently used, immediately notify your bank. Have them put stop-payment orders on your checks and consider closing out all existing bank accounts and then opening new accounts with new account numbers.

Also, report stolen or fraudulent use of checks to:

Telecheck: 1-800-710-9898 
CheckRite: 1-800-766-2748 
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
ChexSystems: 1-800-428-9623
International Check Services: 1-800-526-5380 
SCAN: 1-800-262-7771 
NPC: 1-800-526-5380

If you believe someone has used your Social Security number to get a job, contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 to confirm all reported earnings information. To report fraudulent use of a Social Security number, call 1-800-269-0271.

For complaints about products or information received through the U.S. Postal Service, or if you believe your mail has been stolen or someone has submitted a fraudulent change-of-address form, write to:

Mail Fraud 
Chief of Postal Inspector Service 
475 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W. 
Washington, D.C. 20260-2181

How to protect yourself

Be very careful about to whom you give out personal identification information, such as your mother's maiden name and your Social Security number. Ask if it can be kept confidential. Inquire how it will be used and with whom it will be shared.

Never provide any personal, bank account, or credit card information to anyone who contacts you through a telephone solicitation. Try to have them mail you information so you can further research the company and their products and services.

Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Keep a list of all credit cards, account numbers, expiration dates, and customer-service phone numbers in a secure place so you can quickly contact your creditors in case your cards are lost or stolen.

Tear up or destroy all ATM and bank receipts, old insurance forms, bank checks, expired credit cards, and any other items that include personal information, identification, and account numbers about you. This includes pre-approved credit card solicitations! Thieves oftentimes search through your garbage to find these forms and information and use it to apply for credit in your name.

Minimize the number of credit cards and other items with printed personal information that you carry. Cancel all inactive accounts. Even though you do not use them, those accounts appear on your credit report, which can be used by thieves.

Do not leave envelopes containing your checks in your home mailbox, unless it's secured. Due to the increased risk of theft, it is best to mail bills and other sensitive items at the post office, rather than from your residence.

Give out your Social Security number only when necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. Do not store your Social Security card in your wallet.

When creating passwords or PINs, do not use obvious sequences like the last four digits of your Social Security number or your birth date, middle name, mother's maiden name, address, or anything else that thieves could discover easily.

To decrease the number of unsolicited credit card applications that you receive (and the chances of these applications being stolen), call 1-888-5OPT-OUT (567-8688) to have your name removed from marketing lists sold by credit bureaus.

Monitoring your credit card statements and your credit report are the most important steps you can take to safeguard your credit identity. Although it costs $8, it is a good idea to review a copy of your credit report at least once a year by contacting the following credit bureaus: 


Equifax: 1-800-685-1111

Experian: 1-888-397-3742

Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289