Consumer Protection Hotline:
Senior Protection Hotline: 304-558-1155
Medicaid Fraud Hotline:

Identity Theft Prevention

How Do Thieves Get Your Information?*

“I thought I kept my personal information to myself.” You may have, but identity thieves are resourceful: they rummage through your garbage, the trash of businesses, or public dumps. They may work — or pretend to work — for legitimate companies, medical offices, clinics, pharmacies, or government agencies, or convince you to reveal personal information. Some thieves pretend to represent an institution you trust, and try to trick you into revealing personal information by email or phone.

What Do Thieves Do With Your Information?*

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

Clues That Someone Has Stolen Your Information*

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

What If Your Information is Lost or Stolen, But Your Accounts Don’t Show Any Problems?*

If your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen, contact the credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your credit file. Check your bank and other account statements for unusual activity. Order a free copy of your credit report periodically to monitor your accounts. You have a right to one free copy of your credit report from each of the national credit reporting companies every year. If you stagger your orders, you can get a credit report every four months.

Your state law controls the rights you have if your information is lost in a data breach. When the organization that lost your information lets you know about the breach, they should explain your options.

Extended Fraud Alerts*

If you’ve created an Identity Theft Report, you can get an extended fraud alert on your credit file. When you place an extended alert, you can get 2 free credit reports within 12 months from each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies, and the credit reporting companies must take your name off marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for 5 years, unless you ask them to put your name back on the list. The extended alert lasts for 7 years.

How to Place An Extended Fraud Alert

Contact each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies.

  • Ask the company to place an extended fraud alert on your credit file.
  • The company may have you complete a request form.
  • Include a copy of your Identity Theft Report when you submit the form and your letter.
  • Placing an extended fraud alert is free.

Mark your calendar.

  • The extended alert stays in effect for 7 years.

Update your files.

  • Record the dates you made calls or sent letters.
  • Keep copies of letters in your files.

Credit Freezes*

You may choose to put a credit freeze on your file. But a credit freeze may not stop misuse of your existing accounts or some other types of identity theft. Also, companies that you do business with would still have access to your credit report for some purposes. A fraud alert will allow some creditors to get your report as long as they verify your identity.

Putting a credit freeze on your credit file does not affect your credit score. If you place a credit freeze on your credit file, you can:

  • get a copy of your free annual credit report
  • open a new account, apply for a job, rent an apartment, buy insurance, refinance your mortgage, or do anything else that requires your credit report. If you want a business, lender, or employer to be able to review your credit report, you must ask the credit reporting company to lift the freeze. You can ask to lift the freeze temporarily or permanently.

The cost to place and lift a freeze, and how long the freeze lasts, depend on state law: In many states, identity theft victims can place a freeze for free, but in others, victims must pay a fee, which is usually about $10. If you have a police report, you may be able to place or lift a freeze for free. You must pay the fee to each credit reporting company. Cost and lead times to lift a freeze may vary so you may want to check with state authorities (find them at or the credit reporting companies in advance.

How to Place a Credit Freeze

Contact your state Attorney General’s office.

  • Ask if there is a fee for putting a freeze on your credit file.
  • Ask how long the freeze lasts.

Contact each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies.

  • Report that you are an identity theft victim. Report that you are an identity theft victim.
  • Ask the company to put a freeze on your credit file.
  • Pay the fee required by state law.

Mark your calendar.

  • Your state law determines how long the credit freeze lasts.

Update your files.

  • Record the dates you made calls or sent letters. Keep copies of letters in your files.

Contact the 3 Credit Reporting Companies*










If you know an identity thief tampered with some of your accounts, you may have contacted the related businesses already. After you get your credit reports, read them to see whether other fraudulent transactions or accounts are listed, and then take steps to correct the errors.

Your credit report is full of information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, or have filed for bankruptcy. The information in your credit report is used to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting a home, so it’s important that the information is accurate and up-to-date. Check all key information, including your: name, address, Social Security number, employers.

If you see errors on the report, like accounts you didn’t open or debts you didn’t incur, dispute the errors with the credit reporting companies and the fraud department of each business that reported an error.

If the errors result from identity theft and you have an Identity Theft Report, ask the credit reporting companies and business to block the disputed information from appearing on your credit reports. The credit reporting companies must block transactions and accounts if you are an identity theft victim.

Get Copies of Documents Used by the Thief

As you contact businesses to make corrections, ask for copies of any documents the identity thief used to open a new account or make charges in your name. Here's how:

Contact the business that has records of the fraudulent transactions. Our sample letter can help. OR Give written permission to a law enforcement officer to contact the company on your behalf.

Ask for copies of documents the thief used to open new accounts or charge purchases in your name. Send details about where or when the fraudulent transactions took place. Include a copy of your Identity Theft Report or the proof the business requires, and proof of your identity. The business must send you free copies of the records within 30 days of getting your request. For example, if you dispute a debt on a credit card account you did not open, ask for a copy of the application and applicant’s signature.

Update your files.

  • Record the dates you made calls or sent letters.
  • Keep copies of letters in your files.

Report Loss or Theft Immediately*

Acting fast limits your liability for charges you didn’t authorize. Report the loss or theft of your card to the card issuer as quickly as possible. Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service for such emergencies. Once you report the loss of your ATM or debit card, federal law says you cannot be held liable for unauthorized transfers that occur after that time.

  • Follow up with a letter or email. Include your account number, the date and time when you noticed your card was missing, and when you first reported the loss.
  • Check your card statement carefully for transactions you didn’t make. Report these transactions to the card issuer as quickly as possible. Be sure to send the letter to the address provided for billing errors.
  • Check if your homeowner's or renter’s insurance policy covers your liability for card thefts. If not, some insurance companies will allow you to change your policy to include this protection.

How to Report Fraudulent Transactions

Contact your ATM or debit card issuer.

  • Report the fraudulent transaction.
  • Act as soon as you discover a withdrawal or purchase you didn’t make.

Write a follow up letter to confirm that you reported the problem.

  • Keep a copy of your letter.
  • Send it by certified mail and ask for a return receipt.

Update your files.

  • Record the dates you made calls or sent letters.
  • Keep copies of letters in your files.

How to Limit Your Losses*

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) offer protection if your credit, ATM, or debit cards are lost or stolen.

Credit Card Loss or Fraudulent Charges

Under the FCBA, your liability for unauthorized use of your credit card tops out at $50. However, if you report the loss before your credit card is used, the FCBA says you are not responsible for any charges you didn’t authorize. If your credit card number is stolen, but not the card, you are not liable for unauthorized use.

ATM or Debit Card Loss or Fraudulent Transfers

If you report an ATM or debit card missing before someone uses it, the EFTA says you are not responsible for any unauthorized transactions. If someone uses your ATM or debit card before you report it lost or stolen, your liability depends on how quickly you report it:

If you report: Your maximum loss:
Before any unauthorized charges are made. $0
Within 2 business days after you learn about the loss or theft. $50
More than 2 business days after you learn about the loss or theft, but less than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you, $500
More than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you. All the money taken from your ATM/debit card account, and possibly more; for example, money in accounts linked to your debit account.

If someone makes unauthorized transactions with your debit card number, but your card is not lost, you are not liable for those transactions if you report them within 60 days of your statement being sent to you.

How to Protect Your Cards and Account Information*

For Credit and ATM or Debit Cards
  • Don’t disclose your account number over the phone unless you initiate the call.
  • Guard your account information. Never leave it out in the open or write it on an envelope.
  • Keep a record of your account numbers, expiration dates, and the telephone numbers of each card issuer so you can report a loss quickly.
  • Draw a line through blank spaces on charge or debit slips above the total so the amount can’t be changed.
  • Don't sign a blank charge or debit slip.
  • Tear up copies and save your receipts to check against your monthly statements.
  • Cut up old cards — cutting through the account number — before you throw them away.
  • Open your monthly statements promptly and compare them to your receipts. Report mistakes or discrepancies as soon as possible.
  • Carry only the cards you'll need.
For ATM or Debit Cards
  • Don't carry your PIN in your wallet, purse, or pocket — or write it on your ATM or debit card. Commit it to memory.
  • Never write your PIN on the outside of a deposit slip, an envelope, or other papers that could be lost or looked at.
  • Carefully check your ATM or debit card transactions; the funds for this item will be quickly transferred out of your checking or other deposit account.
  • Periodically check your account activity, especially if you bank online. Compare the current balance and transactions on your statement to those you've recorded. Report any discrepancies to your card issuer immediately.

*Information from ​Federal Trade Commission