BOSTON (CBS) – How does identity theft happen? Your name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, credit card numbers, ATM numbers and checking account numbers are floating around everywhere. You need to protect those numbers.

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There has been a rebound in identity theft according to Javelin Strategy & Research. Almost 12 million Americans were hit with credit and debit card fraud in 2011. The survey estimated that roughly one in 20 adults was affected by identity-related fraud last year.

The survey used a broad definition for identity theft: any time a transaction occurs using a victim’s name or account information without authorization.

Identity theft losses cost the consumer over $1.5 billion last year with the median amount being $537 according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

How do you prevent identity theft?

  • Protect your wallet – it is full of important information
  • Do not keep your Social Security card in your wallet
  • Protect your Social Security number, give it out only when necessary
  • Protect your credit card numbers
  • Protect your pin numbers and change them often
  • Shred mail and paperwork that contain your vital information
  • Don’t leave mail in your mailbox for the mail carrier to pick up
  • Make copies of everything you carry in your wallet
  • Check your bank and credit card statements on line at least once a week
  • Put a screen password on your Smart Phone
  • Do not buy phone apps from an unknown source
  • Beware of “free” apps for your phone
  • Check your credit reports at least annually- there are 3 reporting agencies so get one free report every 4 months to keep a close watch on your report

If your identity has been stolen get on the Federal Trade Commission’s website for the best information available:

  1. File a police report, they may not want the paperwork or the hassle but you need to do it. Get a copy of the report in case banks, credit card companies and others need proof of the crime.
  2. File a complaint with the FTC, or call 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) which is a toll free number.
  3. Contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit-reporting agencies and report that your identity has been stolen. Ask that a fraud alert and a credit freeze be placed on your file and that no new credit be granted without your approval. This may cost you up to $10 per company.

Equifax – 800-525-6285
Experian – 888-397-3742
Transunion 800-680-7289

One more thing:  The first identity theft occurred in 1938. A sample Social Security card with the number 078-05-1120 was inserted into new wallets manufactured by the E.H. Ferree company in Lockport, N.Y.

Unfortunately, that number belonged to Hilda Schrader Whitcher, the secretary of an E.H. Ferree vice president who had decided to use her official number on the sample cards.  Not surprisingly, more than 40,000 people have since claimed Whitcher’s Social Security number as their own at one time or another.

Whitcher was eventually issued a new number, but not before being questioned by the FBI. They wanted to know why so many people had her number.

There’s more:

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Ten Things the IRS Wants You to Know About Identity Theft

1. If you receive a letter or notice from the IRS which leads you to believe someone may have fraudulently used your Social Security Number, respond immediately to the name and address or phone number printed on the IRS notice.

2. If you receive a letter from the IRS that indicates more than one tax return was filed for you, this may be a sign that your SSN was used fraudulently.

3. Another sign that you may be the target of identity theft is an IRS letter indicating you received wages from an employer unknown to you.

4. The IRS has a department which deals specifically with identity theft issues. The IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit is available if you have been in contact with the IRS about an identity theft issue and have not achieved a resolution.

5. You can contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit by calling the Identity Theft Hotline at 800-908-4490 Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm local time (Alaska and Hawaii follow Pacific Standard Time).

6. The IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit is also available if you believe your identity may be at risk of being stolen due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet or due to questionable activity on your credit card or your credit report.

7. The IRS never initiates communication with taxpayers about their tax account through emails. If you receive an e-mail or find a Web site you think is pretending to be the IRS, forward the e-mail or Web site URL to the IRS at

8. The IRS has many more resources available to help inform taxpayers about identity theft on the IRS Web site at On you can access information on how to report scams and bogus IRS Web sites. You can also visit the IRS Identity Theft Resource Page, which you can find by typing Identity Theft Resource Page in the search box on the home page.

9. The Federal Trade Commission is also available to assist taxpayers with identity theft issues. You can reach them at 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338).

10. Visit for protection tips from the federal government and the technology industry.*

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*But beware that website was hacked into in January.