What is Identity Theft?
The FBI says ID theft is the fastest growing white-collar crime in the nation. It involves criminals using another individual's personal identifiers, which are acquired through various means, including your own mailbox.
The thieves need your name, address, bank or credit card numbers, or your social security number to take your identity. When they have this information they can make address changes, open bank accounts, obtain credit cards and deplete your funds. They can also affect your credit standing.
There are ways to protect yourself against identity theft. Some things you can do are:
- Use passwords on accounts and on your PC that are difficult to guess. Do not keep passwords in your wallet or write them on your Debit or ATM cards.
- Take care in disposal of trash. Shred or tear up receipts, credit card solicitations, statements, checks, and other sensitive information.
- Review statements promptly and immediately report any discrepancies.
- Do not give out personal data over the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you have initiated the contact.
- Guard your social security number and do not let your credit card out of your sight when paying for products or services.
- Periodically check your credit report to see if there are loans or credit cards outstanding that you didn't know about.
If You Are a Victim
If you suspect misuse of your personal information to commit fraud, take action immediately. Keep a record of all conversations and correspondence when you take the following suggested steps:
1) Contact your bank(s) & credit card issuers immediately so that the following can be done: access to your accounts can be protected; stop payments on missing checks; personal identification numbers (PINS) and online banking passwords changed; and a new account opened, if appropriate.
Be sure to indicate to the bank or card issuer all of the accounts and/or cards potentially impacted including ATM cards, check (debit) cards and credit cards. Customer service or fraud prevention telephone numbers can generally be found on your monthly statements.
Contact the major check verification companies to request they notify retailers using their databases not to accept these stolen checks. Three of the check verification companies that accept reports of check fraud directly from consumers are: Telecheck (800) 710-9898, International Check Services (800) 631-9656 and Equifax (800) 437-5120.
2) File a police report with your local police department. Obtain a police report number with the date, time, police department, location, and police officer taking the report. The police report may initiate an investigation into the loss with the goal of identifying, arresting, and prosecuting the offender and possibly recovering your lost items. The police report will be helpful when clarifying to creditors that you are a victim of identity theft.
3) Contact the three major credit bureaus and request a copy of your credit report. Review your reports to make sure additional fraudulent accounts have not been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. Check the section of your report that lists "inquiries."
Request the "inquiries" be removed from your report from the companies that opened the fraudulent accounts. In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
Request a "fraud alert" for your file and a victim's statement asking creditors to call you before opening new accounts or changing your existing ones. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name.
Here are the major credit bureaus and their phone numbers: Trans Union (800) 680-7289, Experian (888) 397-3742 and Equifax (800) 525-6285. You may also contact the FTC's ID Theft Consumer Response Center toll-free at (877) IDTHEFT.
4) Check your mailbox for stolen mail. Make sure no one has requested an unauthorized address change, title change, PIN change or ordered new cards or checks to be sent to another address. If a thief has stolen your mail to get credit cards, bank and credit card statement, pre-screened credit offers or tax information, or if an identity thief has falsified change-of-address forms, that's a crime. Fill out the ID theft affidavit and contact your local post office and police.
5) Maintain a written chronology of what happened, what was lost, and the steps you took to report the incident to the various agencies, banks and firms impacted. Be sure to record the date, time, contact telephone numbers, person you talked to and any relevant report or reference number and instructions. Your account activity/record log will assist you when supplying information to law enforcement and financial institutions.