Identity Theft 

 


How can someone steal your identity? By co-opting your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or some other piece of your personal information for their own use. In short, identity theft occurs when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft.

Here are some ways that identity thieves work:

*

They open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When they use the credit card and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.

*

They call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, change the mailing address on your credit card account. Then, your imposter runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, you may not immediately realize there's a problem.

*

They establish cellular phone service in your name.

*

They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.

CONSUMER ALERT!

Internet Account Updates
If you receive an e-mail request that appears to be from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) stating that your "account information needs to be updated" or that "the credit card you signed up with is invalid or expired and the information needs to be reentered to keep your account active," do not respond without checking with your ISP first. According to information received by the FTC, THIS MAY BE A SCAM.

How can someone steal your identity? By co-opting your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or some other piece of your personal information for their own use. In short, identity theft occurs when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft.

How identity thieves get your personal information:

They steal wallets and purses containing your identification and credit and bank cards.

They steal your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards and tax information.

They complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location.

They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data in a practice known as "dumpster diving."

They fraudulently obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legitimate need for — and a legal right to — the information.

They get your business or personnel records at work.

They find personal information in your home.

They use personal information you share on the Internet.

They buy your personal information from "inside" sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information about you that appears on an application for goods, services or credit.

 

 

How identity thieves use your personal information:

They call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, ask to change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there's a problem.

They open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth and SSN. When they use the credit card and don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.

They establish phone or wireless service in your name.

They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.

They file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred under your name, or to avoid eviction.

They counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account.

They buy cars by taking out auto loans in your name.

 

Minimize Your Risk

While you probably can't prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft:

·         Before you reveal any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others. Ask if you have a choice about the use of your information: can you choose to have it kept confidential?

·         Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.

·         Guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at  1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up.

·         Put passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

·         Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry to what you'll actually need.

·         Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother's maiden name, financial account numbers and other identifying information. Legitimate organizations with whom you do business have the information they need and will not ask you for it.

·         Keep items with personal information in a safe place. To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements that you are discarding, expired charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail.

·         Be cautious about where you leave personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.

·         Find out who has access to your personal information at work and verify that the records are kept in a secure location.

·         Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.

·         Don't carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.

·         Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. Make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities you've authorized. The law allows credit bureaus to charge you up to $8.50 for a copy of your credit report.

Your credit report contains information on where you work and live, the credit accounts that have been opened in your name, how you pay your bills and whether you've been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy. Checking your report on a regular basis can help you catch mistakes and fraud before they wreak havoc on your personal finances

 

 

If You Are 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 hijacked and misappropriated to commit fraud or theft, take action immediately, and keep a record of your conversations and correspondence.   Exactly which steps you should take to protect yourself depends on your circumstances and how your identity has been misused. However, three basic actions are appropriatein 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 asking that creditors 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 credit bureaus. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, and you request it in writing. 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. Also, check the section of your report that lists "inquiries." Where "inquiries" appear from the company(ies) that opened the fraudulent account(s), request that these "inquiries" 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.

Second, contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

Creditors can include credit card companies, phone companies and other utilities, and banks and other lenders. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each creditor, and follow up with a letter. It's particularly important to notify credit card companies in writing because that's the consumer protection procedure the law spells out for resolving errors on credit card billing statements. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. Here again, avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

Third, file a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card company or others need proof of the crime. Even if the police can't catch the identity thief in your case, having a copy of the police report can help you when dealing with creditors.

Your Next Steps

Although there's no question that identity thieves can wreak havoc on your personal finances, thereare some things you can do to take control of the situation. For example:

·         Stolen mail. If an identity thief has stolen your mail to get new credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-screened credit offers or tax information, or if an identity thief has falsified change-of-address forms, that's a crime. Report it to your local postal inspector. Contact your local post office for the phone number for the nearest postal inspection service office or check the Postal Service web site at www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.

·         Change of address on credit card accounts. If you discover that an identity thief has changed the billing address on an existing credit card account, close the account. When you open a new account, ask that a password be used before any inquiries or changes can be made on the account. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. Avoid using the same information and numbers when you create a PIN.

·         Bank accounts. If you have reason to believe that an identity thief has tampered with your bank accounts, checks or ATM card, close the accounts immediately. When you open new accounts, insist on password-only access to minimize the chance that an identity thief can violate the accounts.

In addition, if your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment. Also contact the major check verification companies to request that they notify retailers using their databases not to accept these checks, or ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business.

National Check Fraud Service: 1-843-571-2143
SCAN: 1-800-262-7771
TeleCheck: 1-800-710-9898 or 927-0188
CrossCheck: 1-707-586-0551
Equifax Check Systems: 1-800-437-5120
International Check Services:  1-800-526-5380

If your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card as soon as you can and get another with a new PIN.

·         Investments. If you believe that an identity thief has tampered with your securities investments or a brokerage account, immediately report it to your broker or account manager and to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

·         Phone service. If an identity thief has established new phone service in your name; is making unauthorized calls that seem to come from - and are billed to - your cellular phone; or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and/or calling card. Open new accounts and choose new PINs.

If you are having trouble getting fraudulent phone charges removed from your account, contact your state Public Utility Commission for local service providers or the Federal Communications Commission for long-distance service providers and cellular providers at www.fcc.gov/ccb/enforce/complaints.html or 1-888-CALL-FCC.

·         Employment. If you believe someone is using your SSN to apply for a job or to work, that's a crime. Report it to the SSA's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271. Also call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of the earnings reported on your SSN, and to request a copy of your Social Security Statement. Follow up your calls in writing.

·         Driver's license. If you suspect that your name or SSN is being used by an identity thief to get a driver's license or a non-driver's ID card, contact your Department of Motor Vehicles. If your state uses your SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number.

·         Bankruptcy. If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy using your name, write to the U.S. Trustee in the Region where the bankruptcy was filed. A listing of the U.S. Trustee Program's Regions can be found at www.usdoj.gov/ust, or look in the Blue Pages of your phone book under U.S. Government - Bankruptcy Administration.

Your letter should describe the situation and provide proof of your identity. The U.S. Trustee, if appropriate, will make a referral to criminal law enforcement authorities if you provide appropriate documentation to substantiate your claim. You also may want to file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney and/or the FBI in the city where the bankruptcy was filed.

·         Criminal records/arrests. In rare instances, an identity thief may create a criminal record under your name. For example, your imposter may give your name when being arrested. If this happens to you, you may need to hire an attorney to help resolve the problem. The procedures for clearing your name vary by jurisdiction.


 

What is identity theft?

"Identity theft" refers to crimes in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data (i.e., name, date of birth, social security number, driver's license number, and your financial identity— credit card, bank account and phone-card numbers) in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain (to obtain money or goods/services). Criminals also use identity theft to fraudulently obtain identification cards, driver licenses, birth certificates, social security numbers, travel visas and other official government papers. Unlike fingerprints...

Unlike your fingerprints (which are unique to you and can't easily be given to, or stolen by, someone else for their use), your personal data can be used, if it falls into the wrong hands, allowing criminals to profit at your expense. Plus, according to the FTC, —on average, most victims don't even know their identity has been stolen until more than a year later.

Identity theft can have devastating consequences for you, as the victim, who may face long hours of closing bad accounts, opening new ones, and repairing your wrecked credit record. And, it may take significant out-of-pocket expenses to clear your good name. In the meantime, you may be denied jobs, loans, education, housing, and cars, or even get arrested for crimes you didn't commit. Unfortunately, the experience of thousands of victims is that it often requires months, and even years, to navigate the frustrating, identity-recovery process.

How identity thieves GET
your personal information:

Identity thieves can use a variety of high/low tech means to gain access to your personal information. Here are some of the ways these imposters can get your personal information and take over your identity—

      And through other forms of
      old-fashioned fraud and theft...

How identity thieves USE
your personal information:


How can I tell if I'm a victim of identity theft?