dentity theft, the fastest-growing financial crime, occurs when someone uses another's Social Security number, name, mother's maiden name, or any personally identifiable information to purchase goods or services. The Social Security Administration received more than 30,000 complaints about the misuse of Social Security numbers in 1999—most of which had to do with identity theft. If you suspect fraudulent activity, the following can help:

The Federal Trade Commission. The FTC receives and processes identity theft complaints. Trained counselors provide information on the steps consumers should take to resolve problems and repair damage to their credit records. They may refer certain cases to law enforcement agencies, regulatory agencies, or private entities that can help. For information, call 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) or visit

The three major credit bureaus. You can contact Equifax at 800-525-6285, Experian at 888-397-3742, and Trans Union at 800-680-7289. Ask them to place a "fraud alert" in your file, so lenders and other credit report users will be careful before starting or changing accounts in your name.

Your credit union, credit card company, or other financial institution that may need to know. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department, and follow up with a letter. If necessary, close old accounts and open new ones, and select new passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers). Your call also may alert the credit union to scams that might be targeting other members.

Local police or authorities where the identity theft occurred. Fill out a police report detailing what happened. Get a copy of the completed report— that can help clear up questions and problems when dealing with creditors and other financial institutions.

© 2000 Credit Union National Association Inc.