Member Groups

The Catalyst
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law

March 2012, vol. 17, no. 3

Protecting your identity

Did you give out your credit card number to one too many people when buying gifts over the phone or online during the holiday season?

When you start receiving those account statements in January (after you get over the initial shock of the amount you spent), you should check for any suspicious or unauthorized charges to your debit or credit card. Identity theft is a crime that affects thousands of Illinois residents each year.

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft.

First, never give out any personal information unless you initiate the contact. Before sharing any personal information, confirm you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Before giving out your credit card number over the Internet, make sure you are using a secure site. A site is secure if the web address begins with the prefix “https:” rather than “http:.” When dealing with paper records treat your mail and trash carefully. You can opt out of receiving credit card offers in the mail by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT.

Second, check your credit report regularly. Each individual is entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You can get all three credit reports at once, or, ideally, spread them out over the course of a year and get a report from a different agency every four months. To request a copy of your credit report call toll-free 1-877-322-8228 or log on to <>. (Make sure to go to>, not <>, which has hidden charges.) Once you have your report, check it to ensure you authorized every account listed. Additionally, check that everything reported is accurate. Occasionally, a creditor may report an account as delinquent when you are current on your payments. If you find any such errors you can send a dispute letter to each of the agencies. Inaccurate information reported on your report can affect your ability to get a loan, insurance, or even a job.

Third, if there is any account listed that you did not authorize, notify one of the three agencies so they can place a fraud alert on your report. The contact information is as follows: Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; <>; Experian: 1-888-397-3742; <>; TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289;>. Also file a police report. Illinois law requires police departments to allow identity theft victims to file reports and provide victims with copies of those reports. Get a copy of the police report to help deal with creditors who need proof of the crime. You may also want to consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. A security freeze is different from a fraud alert. A freeze allows you to prohibit your credit report from being released to another person without your prior, express authorization. Security freezes are free to Illinois victims of identity theft. You will need the police report number in order to place a free security freeze on your credit report.

Finally, be sure to remain alert, especially in the first year following a security breach notification or identity theft. ■


Ella York is a Community Outreach Liaison for Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office and a member of the ISBA Women and the Law Committee. For more information on identity theft check out the Identity Theft Resource Guide posted at <> or contact the Identity Theft Hotline operated by Attorney General Madigan’s office at 1-866-999-5630.