In Washington, more than 8,300 consumers filed identity theft reports with the FTC last year.

Share story

The Federal Trade Commission received nearly 400,000 identity theft reports in 2016. Here in Washington, more than 8,300 consumers filed identity theft reports last year with the FTC.

Recent FTC experiments show how quickly ID thieves exploit stolen information. In one experiment, it took 90 minutes for crooks to try to use fake personal information the FTC had posted on website commonly used by identity thieves. A few weeks later, we ran the experiment again and this time it took just 9 minutes. The total number of attempts: 119 using the first batch of information and 1,108 using the second set. Our experiments also demonstrated that the market for stolen information is global.  Internet addresses from close to 30 countries were associated with attempts to use the stolen information.

With the speed, stealth, and global reach of ID theft, what can we do to frustrate thieves and limit the damage? The answer is to make fighting ID theft an all-hands endeavor. And if you are an ID-theft victim, responding promptly and following a plan can help you limit the damage and regain control.

An important first step against identity theft is to become familiar with IdentityTheft.gov. IdentityTheft.gov is the government’s free one-stop resource for reporting identity theft to authorities and getting a plan for recovery. It lets victims file identity theft complaints with the FTC and receive a personal, interactive recovery plan that walks them through each step of the recovery process; provides follow-up reminders; and helps them track their recovery progress. IdentityTheft.gov offers tailored recovery plans for more than 30 types of identity theft. It’s available in Spanish, too, at RobodeIdentidad.gov.

When should you visit IdentityTheft.gov? It can be a valuable resource in many situations – if you see unauthorized charges on an account; if the IRS contacts you about a suspicious tax form; if you spot an account you do not recognize on your credit report – available free from annualcreditreport.com; or if you suspect another type of identity theft.

How does IdentityTheft.gov work? People who report identity theft using IdentityTheft.gov will be asked some questions about what happened. IdentityTheft.gov then uses the responses to create individualized tool kits for consumers to use, including:

  • A personal recovery plan.
  • Prefilled letters to send to merchants, banks and others affected by the identity theft.
  • An “Identity Theft Report,” which is your official statement about the crime.

Along with the plan and prefilled letters, the Identity Theft Report is an important part of your tool kit because it can be used to clear fraudulent transactions from account and credit records.

IdentityTheft.gov also has information for data breach victims, even if nobody has used their personal data for identity theft. In these situations, the steps to take depend on the type of information exposed. For example, if credit card data is exposed, IdentityTheft.gov advises victims to contact the credit reporting agencies. If Social Security numbers are exposed, it provides steps for protecting against tax-related identity theft.

The more we all learn about and use the tools in IdentityTheft.gov, the more effective we will become against the crime of identity theft. If you are not a victim of identity theft or a data breach, you still have a role to play. We all know someone who has been a victim of identity theft – make sure your friend knows about IdentityTheft.gov. Also, talk with family, friends and neighbors about identity-theft prevention and recovery. As part of that conversation, don’t forget to mention IdentityTheft.gov. Moreover, if you find yourself making a presentation to your club or community group, you can order free materials from the FTC, including materials explaining how to find and use IdentityTheft.gov. Visit bulkorder.ftc.gov to place your order.

Businesses, professional practices, community services and nonprofits can help, too. Implement sensible data-security protections to help keep confidential data out of the hands of identity thieves. Educate employees about the role they play in protecting against data breaches and identity theft. Refer customers, clients, and employees who are victims of identity theft or may have experienced a data breach to IdentityTheft.gov. Talk up the importance of good data security practices at business groups and with business colleagues and encourage them to refer others to IdentityTheft.gov. Check out ftc.gov/SmallBusiness for more, including information about data security.

The FTC is a bipartisan federal agency that has championed the interests of American consumers for more than 100 years. The agency enforces laws that prohibit unfair or deceptive practices in the marketplace and educates consumers and businesses.