What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identity have been stolen can spend months or years and thousands of dollars - cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans for education, housing, cars, or even be arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. Humiliation, anger and frustration are common feelings victims experience as they navigate the arduous process of reclaiming their identity.
Perhaps you’ve received your first call from a collections agent demanding payment on a loan you never took out - for a car you never bought. Maybe you’ve already spent a significant amount of time and money calling financial institutions, canceling accounts, struggling to regain your good name and credit. Or maybe your wallet has been stolen, or you’ve just heard about identity theft for the first time on the nightly news, and you’d like to know more about protecting yourself from this devastating crime.
Minimize Your Risk of Identity Theft:
DON'T become a victim of identity theft!
You can greatly minimize your chances by implementing the safeguards listed below:
- Be extremely cautious when handling and disclosing the following information:
- Social Security Number
- Mother's Maiden Name
- Date of Birth
- Current and Past Addresses
- Drivers License Number
- Credit Card Account Number
- Personal Identification Number (PIN) Codes
Never provide personal information over the phone, unless you have initiated the phone call. If you receive a call and want to confirm that the company is who they say they are, ask for a call back number and match it against the telephone book or directory assistance. Check with the Better Business Bureau to determine the legitimacy of the business.
- Never leave outgoing checks or paid bills in your residential mailbox. Use a blue postal mailbox or your local post office.
- Consider installing a residential mailbox that is equipped with a locking mechanism and never leave mail in your mailbox overnight.
- When ordering new checks, do not have them sent to your residence. Pick them up at the bank or have them delivered by registered mail.
- Use a shredder prior to disposing of bank and credit card statements, canceled checks, pre-approved credit card offers, and any other financial or personal information. A crosscut shredder offers added security by making it more difficult to reconstruct shredded documents.
- Place your garbage out in the morning on the day of pickup rather than the night before. This gives "dumpster divers" less opportunity to go through your garbage.
- If you list your name in the telephone book consider leaving out your address, or having an unpublished number. Leave off titles such as "Dr." or "Attorney" or any other signs announcing your apparent affluence.
- Minimize the amount of information you carry in your wallet or purse by taking out extra credit cards and ID's.
- Cancel all unused credit cards and maintain a list of active cards and accounts.
- This list should include account numbers, expiration dates, telephone numbers and addresses for each creditor. Store this information in a secure place.
- Open all bills promptly and check your accounts monthly.
- Save all credit card receipts and match them against your monthly billing. Look for charges you don't recognize and report them immediately.
- Call your credit card company if your card has expired and you have not yet received a replacement.
- Notify your credit card companies and financial institutions in advance of any address or phone number changes.
- Never loan your credit cards to anyone.
- Sign all credit cards upon receipt.
- Report all lost or stolen credit cards immediately.
- Be cautious of "shoulder surfers". Always shield your calling card or pin numbers when entering them during a transaction.
- Keep your eyes on your credit card during all transactions (e.g. restaurants).
- Never leave transaction receipts behind including, ATM receipts on the counter, at the gas pump, at the bank or in a trash receptacle - these should be shredded.
- Ask your creditors to include a security password on your accounts. Refrain from using your mother's maiden name.
- Limit the information printed on your checks to your name and address. If the clerk needs your phone number, write it on the check but do not say it loud enough for strangers to hear.
- Do not allow sales clerks to write your credit card number on your check.
- Never write down PINs or passwords. Memorize them!
Order a copy of your credit report at least once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Review each report to verify that the information is correct and that there are not fraudulent transactions. You can also purchase services that alert you when there are irregularities in your accounts. Check with the three major credit report agencies for further information on these services.
Order credit reports for your child, anyone can be a victim of Identity Theft!
Minimize your risk on-line:
- Limit the amount of information you give out over the Internet (e.g. genealogy sites).
- Use your credit card instead of your debit card when purchasing merchandise through the Internet.
- Only shop at Internet sites that have a secure server. Secure pages begin with "https" instead of "http". A picture of a lock in the locked position should appear on the browser window.
When you subscribe to an on-line service, you may be asked to give credit card information. Be aware of con artists who may ask you to confirm your enrollment when entering an interactive services site. Don't give out your password, credit card or checking account numbers! Contact your service provider to report such activity.
- For additional information on Identity Theft or to obtain a copy of "When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name", visit the Federal Trade Commission's website at: www.ftc.gov
What to do if you're a victim?:
Sometimes an identity thief can strike even if you’ve been very careful about keeping your personal information to yourself. If you suspect that your personal information has been issued to commit fraud or theft, take action immediately, and keep a detailed record of your conversations and correspondence. Exactly which steps you should take to protect against further damage depends on your circumstances and how your identity has been misused. However, three basic actions are appropriate in almost every case.
Your First Three Steps:
First, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Tell them that you’re an identity theft victim. Request that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file, as well as a victim’s statement that asks creditors to call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name.
At the same time, order copies of your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, and you ask for it in writing. Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized charges made to your existing accounts. Also, check the section of your report that lists “inquiries.” Where “inquiries” appear from the compan(ies) that opened the fraudulent account(s), request that they be removed from your report. In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
Please note: Fraud alerts and victim statements are voluntary services provided by the credit bureaus. Creditors do not have to consider them when granting credit. That’s why it’s vital to continue checking your reports periodically. In addition, fraud alerts and victim statements expire; you need to renew them periodically. Ask each bureau about their policy.
- Second, close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
Credit accounts include all accounts with banks, credit card companies, other lenders, phone companies, utilities, and other service providers. If you are closing your existing accounts, use new PINs and passwords when you open new accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mothers maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
- If the identity thief has made charges or debits, ask the company about the following forms for disputing those transactions:
For New Unauthorized Accounts: Does the company accept the ID Theft Affidavit? If not, ask the representative to send you the company’s fraud dispute forms.
For Your Existing Accounts: Ask the representative to send you the company’s fraud dispute forms. If the company doesn’t have special forms, use the below sample letter.
- ATM Cards If your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card as soon as you can. Get a new card with a new PIN.
If your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment and ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business. While no federal law limits your losses if someone steals your checks and forges your signature, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from a forged check. At the same time, however, most states require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen.
- You can contact major check verification companies directly for the following services:
1-800-710-9898 or 927-0188
- Certegy (previously Equifax Check System)
- International Check Services:
- To find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name, call:
- Follow up all calls in writing. Send your letter certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep copies for your files.
Third, file a police report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report. Very often, the bank, credit card company or others need proof of the crime in order to erase the debts created by the identity thief. If you can’t get a copy of the report, at least get the report number.
Sample "Dispute Letter - For Existing Credit Accounts":
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Account Number
Name of Creditor
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute a fraudulent (charge or debit) attributed to my account in the amount of $________. I am a victim of Identity theft, and I did not make this (charge or debit). I am requesting that the (charge be removed or the debit reinstated), that any finance and other charges related to the fraudulent amount be credited as well, and that I receive an accurate statement.
Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence to describe any enclosed information, such as police report) supporting my position. Please investigate this matter and correct the fraudulent (charge or debit) as soon as possible.
Enclosures: (list what you are enclosing)