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Frequently Asked Question


Q: What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when a criminal uses another person's personal information to take on that person's identity. Although it can occur online most identity theft occurs offline via stolen wallets and personal identification documents.

Q. How will I know if any of my personal information has been used by someone else?

The best way to find out is to obtain your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. If you notice accounts on your credit report that you did not open or applications for credit ("inquiries") that you did not make, these could be indications that someone else is using your personal information, without your permission.

Q. Do I have to pay for the credit report?

No. You can place a fraud alert on your credit report free of charge. Contact the fraud department at any one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian orTrans Union.

The Fraud Alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts, and all three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge.

Q. What is a Fraud Alert?

It is a message that credit issuers receive when someone applies for new credit in your name. The message tells creditors that there is possible fraud associated with the account and gives them a phone number to call (yours) before issuing new credit. When you call the credit bureau fraud line, you will be asked for identifying information and will be given the opportunity to enter a phone number for creditors to call.

Q. What should I look for on my credit report?

Review the information carefully.

  1. Look for instances of any accounts that you don't recognize, especially accounts that were opened most recently. Look at the inquiries or requests section for names of creditors from whom you haven't requested credit.
    Note: There may be some inquiries that are labeled something like "promotional inquiries". These types of entries are usually for unsolicited offers of credit, mostly from companies with whom you already do business. Don't be concerned about those inquiries as a sign of fraud. (You are automatically removed from lists to receive unsolicited pre-approved credit offers when you put a fraud alert on your account.) You can also stop those offers by calling 888-5OPTOUT.
  2. Look in the personal information section for addresses where you've never lived. Any of these things might be indications of fraud.
  3. Be vigilant of other possible signs of identity theft, such as calls from creditors or debt collectors about bills that you don't recognize, or unusual charges on your credit card bills.
  4. If you find items you don't understand on your report, call the credit bureau at the number given on the report. They will review your report with you over the phone. If the information can't be explained, then you must call the creditors involved and report the crime to your local law enforcement office. For more information, see What to do if you Become a Victim of Identify Theft.

Q. What happens if I find out that I have been a victim of identify theft?

You should immediately notify your local law enforcement agency, contact any creditors involved and notify the credit bureaus. For information on what to do, see What to do if you Become a Victim of Identify Theft.

Q. I called the credit bureau fraud line and they asked for my Social Security number. Is it okay to give it?

The credit bureaus will ask for your Social Security number and other information in order to identify you and avoid sending your credit report to the wrong person.

Q. Do I have to call all three credit bureaus?

No. If you call just one of the bureaus, they will notify the other two. A fraud alert will be placed on your file with all three and you will receive a confirming letter from all three.

Q. Why can't I talk to someone at the credit bureaus?

You must first order your credit reports. When you receive your reports, each one will have a phone number you can call to speak with someone in the bureau's fraud unit. If you see anything on any of your reports that looks unusual or that you don't understand, call the number on the report.

Q. How long does it take to receive my credit report?

It could take approximately two to three weeks from the day you call the credit bureaus.

It will take approximately 5 to 10 days from the time you call the credit bureau to get your Fraud Alert Confirmation Letter with instructions on how to order your credit report. You should receive your report(s) within one to two weeks from the time they are ordered.

If this waiting period is unacceptable to you, you may want to purchase an online report (approximately $10, see Check Your Credit Reports for more information and links).

Q. How long does a fraud alert last?

An initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days. You can remove an alert by calling the credit bureaus at the phone number on your credit report. If you want to reinstate the alert, you can do so.

If you are the victim of identity theft, you can place an Extended Fraud Victim Alert on your report by submitting a copy of a valid identity theft report that you have filed with a federal, state or local law enforcement agency. An Extended Alert will remain on your report for seven years.

Q. Will a fraud alert stop me from using my credit cards?

No. A fraud alert will not stop you from using your existing credit cards or other accounts. It may slow down your ability to get new credit. Its purpose is to help protect you against an identity thief trying to open credit accounts in your name. Credit issuers get a special message alerting them to the possibility of fraud. Creditors know that they should re-verify the identity of the person applying for credit.

Q. Can I still apply for credit after I place a fraud alert on my credit report?

You should still be able to get credit. While a fraud alert may slow down the application process, you can prove your identity to a prospective creditor by providing identifying information.

Q. Should I contact the Social Security Administration and change my Social Security number?

The Social Security Administration very rarely changes a person's SSN. And the mere possibility of fraudulent use of your SSN would probably not be viewed as a justification. There are drawbacks to doing so. The absence of any history under the new SSN would make it difficult to get credit, continue college, rent an apartment, buy a house, open a bank account, get health insurance, etc. In most cases, getting a new SSN would not be a good idea.

Q. What should I do if someone uses my Social Security number to claim unemployment benefits or to work?

If you suspect that someone else has claimed unemployment benefits using your Social Security number, call the SSA immediately. Sometimes, an identity thief will use someone else's Social Security number to be able to work.

It's a good idea to check your Social Security earnings record to see if a thief is using your Social Security number. You can get a copy of your earnings record by calling 1-800-772-1213. Or get a Request for Social Security Statement (Form 7004) at http://www.ssa.gov/online/ssa-7004.html. If a thief is using your Social Security number, call the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.

Q. What if my checks or bank account information were stolen?

Close your bank account. Open a new one with a new account number. Tell the bank you want to use a new password for access to your new account. Do not use your mother's maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Ask your bank to notify the check verification company it uses.

Report stolen checks to the check verification companies that retail stores use. You can also contact major check verification companies. Ask that retailers who use their databases not to accept the checks on your closed account.

Check Verification Company Contacts:
TeleCheck 1-800-710-9898

International Check Services 1-800-366-5010

To find out if the identity thief has passed bad checks in your name, call SCAN at 1-800-262-7771.

Q. If your driver's license or DMV-issued ID card was stolen?

Immediately contact your local DMV office to report the theft (Pennsylvania residents should call 1-800-932-4600). You can also visit the DMV website at http://www.dmv.org/ for contact information by state.

If the thief is using your license as ID, you may want to change your license number. Ask DMV for an appointment. Take a copy of the police report and copies of bills or other items supporting your claim of fraud. You will also need to prove your identity. Take current documents such as a passport, a certification of citizenship or naturalization, or a U.S. military photo ID.

DMV will issue a new driver's license or ID card number when you meet all the requirements.