Identity Theft is a criminal act that involves the illegal use of a person’s personal identifying information such as name, date of birth, Social Security number, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, among others. Perpetrators of this crime use the stolen information to obtain credit, money, goods, and services, create fraudulent bank and credit accounts, or facilitate other criminal activities. According to statistics, victims of identity theft spend an average of six months to two years and $1,400 to recover from the crime. While it may be difficult to completely prevent identity theft, individuals can take measures to minimize their risks of becoming a victim.
Identity thieves steal personal information by:
- Going through your mail or trash (known as Dumpster Diving), looking for bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, tax information, utility bills, charge receipts, cancelled checks, and other paperwork that may contain any of your personal and/or financial information.
- Stealing personal information from your wallet or purse such as identification, credit, or bank cards.
- Completing change-of-address forms to redirect your mail. This can be done by a visit to the Post Office or by changing your address on any financial institutions that you may receive mail from.
- Obtaining your credit report by posing as someone who has a lawful right to the information.
- Acquiring personal information you share on unsecured internet sites or from an unprotected computer (no anti-virus or firewall protection.)
- Buying personal information about you from an inside source. For example, a store employee that obtains your information from a credit application or by “skimming” your credit card information when you make a purchase at an ATM.
- Obtaining your personnel records at work.
Stolen personal information may be used to:
- Make purchases with existing credit cards or bank accounts.
- Open new credit card accounts using your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When identity thieves use the credit cards and allow them to go delinquent, the delinquency is reported on your credit report.
- Obtain utility services in your name at places such as a vacant houses, which are often used as drug establishments.
- Establish phone or cellular service in your name.
- Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.
- Produce counterfeit checks or debit cards and drain your bank account.
- Buy cars by taking out auto loans in your name.
- Call your credit card issuer and impersonate you to change the address on the account. Bills are sent to the new address, so you are unaware of a problem until you check your credit report.
- File for bankruptcy and use your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred under your name.
- Keep personal identification documents, purse, wallet, and financial documents secure and within your direct control.
- Limit the personal information and credit cards you carry. Memorize PIN numbers and Social Security numbers, and don’t carry them in your purse or wallet.
- Treat checks and credit cards like cash, cancel unneeded credit cards, sign credit cards when received, and mark “Check ID” near the signature.
- Don’t put personal information on checks or use them as passwords for financial accounts, email accounts, or any other accounts that need passwords.
- Don’t disclose personal information to unsolicited requests by phone, mail, Internet, or in person. Ask how information will be used and if it will be shared with others.
- Shred all discarded paperwork containing any personal identification information.
- Mail bills, tax documents, and mail containing personal information from a Post Office or mailbox and retrieve mail promptly.
- Be mindful of your surroundings when using an ATM machine, gas pump, self-checkout or similar device, and cover your hand when inputting your PIN number.
- Review monthly statements for unauthorized use and keep track of billing cycles. Check if you receive all monthly statements.
- Confirm that a company is legitimate when using the Internet and providing personal information. Check for https:// and a small padlock in the address bar.
- Ensure computer security and keep personal data secure. Install up-to-date anti-virus protection and a personal firewall. Don’t store all passwords, PINs, and account numbers in one location.
- Order and review your personal credit report at least annually. Request your free report online, by phone, or mail.
- Report the crime to your local law enforcement agency and file a police report. Provide as much documentation as possible at the time of the report. Obtain a copy of your police report and keep the report number available so that you can provide it to your creditors when they request verification.
- Immediately contact all 3 of the Credit Bureaus Fraud units and request a “Fraud Alert” be placed on your accounts. Also, report this in writing to the Credit Bureaus. Send this information by Certified Mail, with return receipt requested. Keep copies of these documents with your records. You may need them while trying to clear your credit name.
- Fill out a victim statement or “Fraud Affidavit.” Keep a copy and send it Certified Mail, with return receipt requested, to all of the financial institutions involved in the ID Theft and the Credit Bureaus.
- Ask how long the ‘Fraud Alert” will be posted on your account and how to extend it if necessary.
- Unfortunately, these Fraud Alerts may not entirely stop new fraudulent accounts from being opened in your name. Request a free copy of your credit report every few months enabling you to monitor any unauthorized activity.
- Request contact information for the credit grantors with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened. Ask that all inquires as a result of fraudulent access be removed. Request that the credit bureaus notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months (two years for employment) of the disputed and fraudulent/inaccurate information.
- Immediately contact creditors by phone and in writing, with whom accounts were opened or used fraudulently. Banks and creditors may ask that you complete a “Notarized Fraud Affidavit,” which could become costly. The law does not require you to notarize an affidavit to a creditor.
- Obtain replacement cards with new account numbers for existing accounts that you believe have been used without your permission.
- Request that old accounts be processed as “Account Closed at Consumer’s Request.” If your account is listed as “Card lost or stolen,” it may be interpreted as blaming you for the loss. Continue to monitor your credit card account bills for new activity.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You may call (877) 438-4338 or contact them online at http://www.consumer.gov/section/scams-and-identity-theft. The FTC keeps a database of information on ID theft and also has a comprehensive guide you may download.
- Report stolen checks, ATM card(s), or fraudulent bank accounts to the appropriate financial institution. Place a “stop payment” on outstanding checks if necessary. Close your checking and/or savings account(s) and obtain new account number(s). Create new passwords, using a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters.
- Contact the local Postal Inspector’s Office immediately if you suspect a change in address was filed without your authorization.
- If you suspect that your Social Security number may have been fraudulently used, notify the Social Security Fraud Hotline at (800) 269-0271. Order a copy of your Earnings and Benefits Statement and check it for any fraudulent activities.
- Report passport theft at http://travel.state.gov/ or call (202) 955-0430.
- Contact your phone company and report stolen calling cards, fraudulent charges, and fraudulent accounts that may have been opened in your name. Cancel any open accounts and open a new one in its place.
- Contact the Secretary of State’s Office to report your driver’s license being used fraudulently. If you suspect that your license number has been obtained fraudulently, fill out the Secretary of State’s complaint form and send supporting documentation to begin the process for a Fraud investigation to be initiated.
- Major check verification companies can notify businesses not to accept your checks. Call Telecheck at (800) 710-9898 or (800) 927-0188 or Certegy, Inc. at (800) 437-5120. To find out if someone has been passing your bad checks, call SCAN at (800) 262-7771.
- Keep a log of conversations including the date, time, phone number(s), person’s name, organization, and brief description of conversation when dealing with companies that have your identification and/or credit. Keep copies of all letters and documents. Send all correspondence by certified mail, with return receipt requested.
Equifax – www.equifax.com
To order a report, call (800) 685-1111 or
Write P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA. 30374-0241
To report fraud, call (800) 525-6285 or
Write P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, Ga. 30374
Experian – www.experian.com
To order a report, call (888) 397-3742 (Experian) or
Write P.O. Box 2104, Allen, Texas 75013
To report fraud, call (888) 397-3742
TransUnion – www.transunion.com
To order a report, call (800) 916-8800 or
Write P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022
To report a fraud, call (800) 680-7289 or
Write Fraud Victim Assistance Department, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834
- Consumer Sentinel – ID Theft Data Clearinghouse – File a complaint, Consumer Tips, etc.
- Fair Credit Reporting Act – Law pertaining to ID Theft
- Fraud Watch International – Advice, information, scams, alerts, virus information
- Identity Theft Prevention and Survival – Private site offers tips, resource links & books
- Identity Theft Resource Center – Non-profit Company providing consumer and victim support
- National Do Not Call List
- National Internet Fraud Center – Advice, information, statistics
- Social Security Administration
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service
- U.S. Department of State Passport Info