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Identity theft is rampant in the United States. Survivors of domestic violence must take extra precautions to proect themselves from abusers who use identity as a means of power and control. Abusers may use survivors’ credit cards without their permission, open fradulent new credit cards in survivors’ names (ultimately ruining their credit) or open credit cards in children’s names. Misuse of survivors’ social security numbers is also common in the context of domestic violence. Abusers may fradulently use survivors’ social security numbers to stalk, harass or threaten survivors. Read more to learn how to protect yourself if you are experiencing this type of abuse.
Survivors experiencing abuse should contact their local domestic violence program for immediate support. Check your local yellow pages or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (operated by the Texas Council on Family Violence) at 1-800-799-SAFE to be connected to the program in your area.
Steps to Take to Protect Your Identity
¨ Relocate. Moving across town, across the state or across the country puts physical distance between you and the abuser. Be sure to obtain an unlisted phone number and be aware of the Full Faith and Credit provisions in your restraining order, which make the order valid when you travel to another state or tribal jurisdiction.
¨ Apply to the address confidentiality program in your state. These types of programs allow individuals who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or other types of crime to receive mail at a confidential address, while keeping their actual address undisclosed. Rules and eligibility vary from state to state. Click here to see a list of address confidentiality programs in states across the country.
¨ Open a post office box to receive mail. Abusers may be able to open fraudulent credit cards by responding to credit card offers received in the mail. A post office box may prevent this if only you have access to it. Be wary of the confidentiality policies of non-government post office box centers such as Mail Boxes, Etc
and the fact that it may not be possible to remain anonymous in rural towns while accessing the post office.
¨ Protect your incoming and outgoing mail. Shred all credit card offers that come in the mail along with other documents that have your name, address and/or social security number on them. Mail bills and other sensitive documents directly from the post office instead of from the mailbox on your porch or at the end of your driveway. Call 1-800-5OPT-OUT to stop receiving credit card offers in the mail.
¨ Guard your social security number. Do not use your social security number as a general ID, PIN or password. Request to have your social security number removed from documents you receive in the mail and ID cards for health insurance, driving, work, etc
Click here to read about changing your social security number.
¨ Report suspected fraud. Contact local law enforcement if you know of or suspect fraud and ask to file a report. Check and/or close accounts you believe have been tampered. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT and the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271. File copies of police reports with credit bureaus.
¨ Protect information you give out. Never give any identifying information over the phone or through email or the internet unless you initiated the call or have verification that the website or email communication is secure.
Other Helpful Websites:
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: Nonprofit Consumer Information and Advocacy Organization: www.privacyrights.org