Identity Theft Information
What is Identity Theft
Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information fraudulently. This can be your social security number, name, or credit card number.
What do identity thieves do?
Identity theft costs you time and money and can destroy your credit. Common crimes including obtaining credit cards, car loans, illegal immigration scams, contracting for other services, buying merchandise, and even changing your address so you aren't aware of these transactions.
Other examples include:
- Writing bad checks on a newly opened bank account.
- Not paying the bills for a new credit card account.
- Obtaining personal loans, car loans or cash advances.
- Opening a new cell phone plan.
- Changing your mailing address and gain access to your existing accounts.
- Obtaining employment.
- Renting an apartment and not paying rent.
How do identity thieves steal information?
Being aware of the methods of identity theft can help you minimize your overall risk.
Common methods include:
Lost/stolen wallet or checkbook
The most commonly reported source of information used to commit fraud is a lost or stolen wallet or checkbook. Stolen wallets and checkbooks usually contain a number of credit and debit cards, in addition to other personal documentation. Using these items, a thief can get enough information to obtain credit under the victim’s name, or sell the information to an organized crime ring.
Crooks search mailboxes for pre-approved credit offers, bank statements, tax forms, or convenience checks. They also look for credit card payment envelopes that have been left for postal carrier pick-up.
They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information, accounts, and passwords.
Changing Your Address
They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form. This way you won't be aware of any new accounts or transactions and this may expose your existing accounts to the identity thief.
How to avoid Identity Theft
Months may pass before you become away of any wrongdoing. Monitoring your credit card and other account statements weekly can greatly decrease your identity theft risk. In fact, the majority of identity theft crimes are self-detected. And according to a recent report by the Better Business Bureau, accessing accounts online provides earlier identity theft detection compared to monitoring monthly paper statements and bills.
Use credit and debit cards safely
-Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately.
-Cancel all inactive credit card accounts.
-When using your credit card do not volunteer any personal information.
-If you’ve applied for a credit card and have not received the card in a timely manner, immediately notify the appropriate financial institution.
-Closely monitor the expiration dates on your credit cards. Contact the credit issuer if the replacement card is not received prior to your credit card’s expiration date.
-Sign all new credit cards upon receipt.
-Match your credit card receipts against monthly bills to make sure there are no unauthorized charges.
Request electronic versions of bills, statements, and checks instead of paper. This allows you to monitor accounts more often on a weekly basis.
Sign up for direct deposit of payroll to prevent paper checks from ending up in the wrong hands.
Shred all personal and financial information such as bills, bank statements, ATM receipts, and credit card offers before you discard them.
Keep your personal documentation (e.g. birth certificate, Social Security card, etc.) and your bank and credit card records in a secure place.
Limit the personal information that you carry in your wallet or purse.
Do not give your Social Security number, credit card number, or any bank account details over the phone unless you have initiated the call and know that the business that you are dealing with is reputable.
Do not disclose bank account numbers, credit card account numbers, and other personal financial data on any Web site or online service location, unless you receive a secured authentication key from your provider.
Do not allow mail to go uncollected. Retrieve it promptly.
Memorize your numbers and/or passwords. Do not write your Social Security number or passwords on paper and store them in your wallet or purse.
Avoid leaving envelopes containing your credit card payments or checks in your home mailbox for postal carrier pickup.
Prior to discarding a computer, make sure all personal information is deleted from its hard drive.
Take receipts at ATMs, bank counters, or unattended gasoline pumps with you.
Use passwords on your credit cards, bank accounts, and phone cards.
Review your credit reports annually.
Be aware of your surroundings when entering your Personal Identification Number (PIN) at an ATM.
How can I tell if my identity has been stolen?
Things to look for if your personal information may have been compromised:
-There are a number of events that alert you to possible identity theft. You may experience some or all of the following:
-You find charges on statements for items you did not buy.
-Creditors contact you about non-payment of a bill that you believe you have paid.
-A debt collector or business contacts you about purchases you did not make.
-You are approved or denied credit for accounts that you never requested.
-A bill or other expected mail fails to arrive. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has changed your billing address.
-You receive credit cards that you didn't apply for.
-A collection agency contacts you about non-payment on an account that you never opened.
-You are denied credit or are offered less favorable credit terms (e.g., high interest rate) for no apparent reason.
-You have missing cards (credit, ATM, debit) or other identifying information such as licenses or membership IDs.
What do to if you become a victim of identity theft:
Step 1: Close your credit cards and tell your bank
Act now! Call the customer service number on the back of your credit cards. If your wallet has been stolen, find the contact information on past bills or get a general number through an operator. The customer service representatives can help ensure that you will not be responsible for any purchases made via identity theft.
Also, while you may not need to close your checking or savings accounts, contact your bank or financial institution and alert them of the identity theft. This allows the bank to monitor your account for suspicious activity.
Step 2: Alert a credit reporting agency
The three major credit reporting agencies collect credit history on consumers and deliver a calculated score based on factors such as repayment behavior. An identity thief may attempt to contact one of these agencies to change the name or address associated with your account. Alerting the agency will allow them to closely monitor your account for suspicious requests and to contact you when such requests are made.
Act now! Contact one of the agencies below. Each can quickly assist your request to monitor your account for unusual activity. Instruct them to flag your file with a fraud alert including a statement that creditors should get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name. Ask the agencies for copies of your credit report. (Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of suspected fraud.) Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts.
You may want to ask about the option to freeze your credit. A consumer report security freezes limits a consumer reporting agency from releasing a credit report or any information from the report without authorization from the consumer.
Equifax: (800) 685-1111
Experian: (888) 397-3742
TransUnion: (800) 916-8800
Step 3: Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC has an initiative to collect details about victims of identity theft. By filing your complaint, you help federal authorities understand the methods and targets of identity thieves and aid them in tracking down these criminals to prevent future theft. You can contact the FTC through their toll-free hotline (877) IDTHEFT (877-438-4338) or you can file your complaint online at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
Step 4: Be proactive. Monitor your credit by requesting free credit reports from http://annualcreditreport.com. US consumers are entitled to one free report per credit reporting agency per year so spread out your requests quarterly.