Identity theft is the number one consumer fraud perpetuated on unsuspecting citizens. Some ID theft victims are unaware of stolen identities for days, months, or even years after the crime occurred. Although laws exist to prohibit this type of activity, you should take care to avoid becoming a victim.
Identity theft crimes
Identity thieves are most interested in the personal information that would enable them to pass as you. This includes your Social Security number, date of birth, mother's maiden name, credit card accounts, and existing account numbers at your financial institutions. They use your information to open new credit card accounts, checking accounts, auto and mortgage loans, or telephone or wireless services in your name.
ID thieves have been known to write bad checks and even counterfeit checks from your checking account to drain your funds. They contact your creditors, impersonate you, and change your mailing address'bills are sent to another address while you remain unaware. Then to avoid eviction or paying any debt, they use your name to file bankruptcy.
How do thieves get your personal information?
Identity thieves can obtain your information in several ways:
- Steal your wallets and purses
- Intercept your mail and complete a "change of address" form to divert your mail
- Rummage through your trash at home or work
- Pose as your landlord or employer
- Purchase your personal information from "inside" sources such as a store employee who handles the information you provide on a credit application
- Write you a letter using letterhead stolen from a financial institution requiring you to furnish your Social Security number to resolve a problem
- Send you a phony IRS form that requires personal information
You know you've had your identity stolen when:
- Your credit card bills show unauthorized charges
- Your credit rating takes a major dip because of delinquencies on loans or credit cards of which you had no knowledge
- You're denied employment, credit, loans, mortgages, government benefits, utilities, and leases because your credit report and background checks show fraudulently incurred debts or wrongful criminal records
Reduce your risk of identity theft
Although there are no fool-proof methods to prevent ID theft, you can make it more difficult for a potential thief to have access to your personal information.
- Get a paper shredder and use it for any mail you dispose of that contains sensitive information. Small, inexpensive ones are available.
- Order your credit report once a year from the three credit reporting agencies. Check carefully for inaccuracies.
- Read your financial account and credit card statements as soon as they arrive by mail or when they're updated in Home Banking. If your bills don't arrive on time, follow up with creditors. A missing credit card bill could mean an ID thief has control of your account and changed your billing address.
- Keep your Social Security number out of your wallet or purse. Don't print your Social Security number or driver's license number on your checks. Don't divulge your Social Security number to anyone unless it's absolutely necessary.
- Carry your extra credit cards, birth certificate, or passport with you only when you need to.
- Neither provide nor confirm personal information to a telephone solicitor unless you
initiated the call. Before releasing your personal data, learn how it will be used or if it will be shared with others.
- Put passwords or extra security protection on your credit card, credit union, and telephone accounts. Choose passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) that are not predictable. Avoid using the last four digits of your Social Security number, your middle name, or birth date. Don't keep passwords or PINs in your purse or wallet.
- Be alert to people who may be eavesdropping when you give out personal information. Shield your PIN from curious onlookers when using an ATM.
- If you plan to provide personal information online, make sure that the lower right corner of your browser displays a locked padlock symbol, which ensures an encrypted connection. Don't deal with sites that ask for more than your name, address, phone number, and credit card number.
- Be careful about storing financial information on your laptop computer. Often laptops are stolen for the information they contain.
Think you're a victim of identity theft? Here's what to do now:
Notify your financial institution to contact you if there is any unusual activity on your account. Change your PINs.
Call the fraud divisions of the credit reporting agencies and request that a "fraud alert" be placed on your name and Social Security number. The fraud alert will require any company or creditor to contact you to authorize any new credit. Ask for copies of your credit reports; as a victim of identity theft, you'll get them free.
Contact police in the jurisdiction where the theft took place. Credit providers will acknowledge your diligence. Call your postmaster if you think the mail was used.
Call the creditors who opened accounts in your name or permitted access to your existing accounts. Inform them of the identity theft and close the accounts. Get copies of all transactions and applications on the accounts.
Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-IDTheft. Request and file the ID Theft Affidavit that alerts companies and organizations that may have fraudulent accounts opened in your name.
|To order a credit report:
||To report identity theft, call one of these numbers*:|
|Social Security statement request|
||800-772-1213 or www.ssa.gov/|
* To report ID theft, it is only necessary to call one credit reporting company. Within 24 hours, each bureau will attach a fraud alert to your credit file. The single call also opts you out of all pre-approved offers of credit or insurance for two years and will get you a mailed copy of your credit file.