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About the Federal Reserve
The Federal Reserve Bank of
Philadelphia is one of 12 regional
Reserve Banks in the United States
that, along with the Board of Governors
in Washington, D.C., make up the
Federal Reserve System, the nation’s
central bank. To ensure a sound financial
system and a healthy economy, the Fed conducts monetary
policy, supervises and regulates financial institutions, maintains
the payments system, and serves as the lender of last resort in a
financial crisis.
The Philadelphia Fed is responsible for the Third District,
which covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey,
and Delaware. Like other Reserve Banks, the Philadelphia
Fed is involved in conducting monetary policy, supervising and
regulating banks, and providing financial services to banks and
the federal government.
The Board of Governors, which is accountable to Congress,
oversees the Reserve Banks. Fed Governors and Reserve
Bank presidents participate in Federal Open Market Committee
decisions on national monetary policy.

Payment Cards Center
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia established a
Payment Cards Center to provide insights into developments
in consumer credit and payments. The center carries out its
mission through an agenda of research and analysis, as well as
forums and conferences that encourage dialogue incorporating
industry, academic, and public-sector perspectives.

Identity theft is an increasingly serious crime that occurs when an
unauthorized person uses or transmits your personal information, such
as your name, Social Security number, bank or credit account numbers,
or other identifying information, without lawful authority, to
commit financial fraud or other crimes.

Identity Theft
Some forms of financial fraud related to
identity theft can be more damaging to victims
than others. Payment card fraud — unauthorized
use of existing payment cards or card numbers — is
one type that has been reasonably well managed by the
payment cards industry. Card issuers can cancel the compromised
card account and issue a new card and account number to the victim
to stop further misuse. Also, in most cases, federal law limits victims’
liability for the fraudulent use of their payment cards. For more
information on payment card fraud and steps consumers can take
to safeguard their card account information, the Federal Reserve
Bank of Philadelphia has published a complementary brochure titled
Preventing Payment Card Fraud: Dos and Don’ts.
In its most damaging form, identity theft can mean a person’s
entire financial identity has been stolen and used to establish new
credit without the victim’s awareness. The new credit is tied to
account information with mailing addresses that are accessible to
the identity thief and are no longer tied to the real consumer. Early
detection of this type of fraud is difficult because victims do not
receive account information — such as statements — that would
alert them to the fraud.
Typically, victims become aware of such fraudulently
established accounts only after reviewing their credit reports,
receiving calls from collection agencies, or being denied credit.
Victims can face a time-intensive clean-up process in order to
restore their credit records. This generally means that the victim must
contact all credit providers on their credit report, dispute fraudulent
accounts and transactions, and file police reports. The government
and the payment cards industry have made significant progress in
providing victims with tools to protect their personal data, to limit
consumer liability, and to streamline the clean-up process. Credit
report freeze laws, enacted by the states, and the Fair and Accurate
Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act), which was passed in December
2003, are major pieces of legislation aimed at helping to combat this
form of financial fraud.

To minimize your risk of identity theft, particularly as it
relates to the creation of new credit accounts, you can take several
steps. First and foremost, it is important to manage your personal
information wisely, be aware of the issues, and think about taking
care of your identity as something you must do regularly. In addition,
taking the following steps will help you to safeguard your personal
and financial information.
1. Order copies of your credit report from each of the three
national credit bureaus every year. Consumers should review
their credit report for unauthorized activity that might be the
result of identity theft. In December 2003, President George W.
Bush signed into law the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions
Act (FACT Act). This legislation requires, among other things,
that the three nationwide credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian,
and TransUnion — provide consumers, upon request, a free
copy of their credit report once every 12 months. To obtain a free
copy of your credit report from one or all three of the national
credit bureaus, visit or call 1-877322-8228. To request your report(s) through the mail, visit www., fill out the form, print it,
and then mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
2. Pay attention to your billing cycles and always review your
monthly statements for inaccuracies. Follow up with creditors
if your bills don’t arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could
mean an identity thief has taken over your payment card account
and changed your billing address to cover his tracks. Also, be
sure to verify that all transactions have been made with your
authorization and to promptly dispute, in writing to your payment
card issuer, any fraudulent activity.


Make sure you tear up or shred your credit
card receipts, copies of credit applications,
insurance forms, physician statements,
canceled bank checks, and statements you
are discarding.

3. Destroy sensitive documents prior to
discarding them. To prevent an identity
thief, who may pick through your trash or recycling
li bins,
stealing your personal information, make sure you tear up or
shred your credit card receipts, copies of credit applications,
insurance forms, physician statements, canceled bank checks,
and statements you are discarding. Also, destroy expired
payment cards and any unused credit offers you get in the mail.
4. Do not provide personal information on the phone, through
the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated the
contact or you know the party requesting the information.
Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet
service providers, and even government agencies to get you to
reveal your Social Security number, financial account numbers,
and other identifying information. These types of scams can
be perpetrated in person, over the phone, on the Internet, and
through e-mail. Be especially wary of unsolicited e-mails that ask
for personal or financial information.
5. Keep items with personal information in a secure place. Be
cautious about where you leave personal information in your
home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help,
or are having service work done in your home. Do not keep
PINs (personal identification numbers) near your checkbook,
ATM cards, credit card, or debit card. It is important to keep a
record — in a safe place, separate from your cards — of your
account numbers, their expiration dates, and the phone number
and address of the card-issuing bank for each card so you can
quickly report fraudulent activity.
6. Guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office
collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove
mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. If you’re
planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail,
contact the U.S. Postal Service to request a vacation hold. The
Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until


you can pick it up. You can also consider putting a lock on your
mailbox or using a post office box to receive mail.
7. Give your Social Security number only when absolutely
necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.
Do not carry your Social Security card with you; keep it in a safe
8. Find out how personal identifying information will be used
and whether it will be shared with others before you reveal
it. Ask if you can choose to have it kept confidential.
9. Protect your account access with passwords; be sure to use
passwords that are difficult to guess. Putting passwords on
your credit card, bank, and phone accounts will ensure that only
you can talk with company representatives about your accounts.
Do not use easily identifiable information, such as your mother’s
maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social
Security number, or your phone number, as passwords.
10. Limit identification information and carry only those cards
you will need. Keep cards separate from your wallet, in a
zippered compartment, business card holder, or small pouch.
Even if you have been careful to protect your personal data, an
identity thief still may strike. If your wallet or purse has been lost or
stolen, you are at risk. In addition, if your monthly statements have
not arrived as expected or if you have received calls from either
issuers or collection agencies regarding transactions or accounts of
which you are unaware, it may mean that someone has stolen your
personal information and is using it to commit identity theft–related
fraud. If you suspect you might be a victim of identity theft, take the
following steps immediately:
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit file by calling any one of
the three national credit bureaus. This can help prevent an
identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. As


Protect your account access with
passwords; be sure to use passwords
that are difficult to guess.

soon as the credit bureau confirms
your fraud alert, it will automatically
notify the other two credit bureaus. The other bureaus will then
place fraud alerts on your reports. In addition, once you have
notified a credit bureau of suspected fraud, the bureau must
make an additional credit report available to you, at your request,
free of charge. To place a fraud alert on your credit file, call the
toll-free number of one of the three national credit bureaus:


2. Review credit reports from each of the three national
credit bureaus for inaccuracies and possible fraudulent
accounts, inquiries, and transactions. Once you receive your
credit reports, review them carefully to make sure no fraudulent
accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized
changes made to your existing accounts. You should continue
to check your reports periodically, especially in the first year of
discovery, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
3. Contact the fraud department of your primary lender as
well as those at banks, credit card companies, utilities,
telephone companies, and Internet service providers
with which you do business. Close accounts that have
been tampered with and dispute fraudulent charges on these
accounts. After reviewing your credit reports, call the fraud
departments of any additional accounts listed on the reports
that appear to be fraudulently opened using your personal
information. It’s particularly important to follow up oral notification
in writing to each company.
4. File a report with your local police or the police in the
community where the identity theft took place. Creditors will
request a copy of this report to provide additional verification that
identity theft has occurred.

5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The
FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases; law enforcement
agencies use it for investigations. Filing a complaint will also help the
FTC to learn more about this crime and to better help those who are
victimized by identity thieves.

To file a complaint or for more information on identity theft, how
to protect your personal information, and what to do if you become
a victim, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website:
To obtain a free copy of your credit report from one or all three
of the national credit bureaus, visit or
call 1-877-322-8228. To request your report(s) through the mail, visit, fill out the form, print it,
and then mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

To view this and other
consumer publications
produced by the
Federal Reserve Bank of
Philadelphia, scan your
smartphone here.

Ten Independence Mall
Philadelphia, PA 19106