Identity Theft and How to Avoid It
Identity theft occurs when someone illegally utilizes your personal, confidential information; Name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission nor authorization to do so. This action is defined as fraud and is federally enforceable.
Identity Theft can affect consumers in many ways, but there are also many ways to keep your identity from being "hijacked," and to assist you if you have been a victim of it:
- Protect your Social Security number (SSN), credit card and debit card numbers, PINs (personal identification numbers), passwords and other personal information.
- Protect your incoming and outgoing email with Spyware and Virus protection.
- Keep your financial trash "clean." You should shred old, outdated statements and utility bills.
- Keep a close watch on your bank account statements and credit card bills. Look for irregular or uncommon activity.
- Avoid identity theft on the Internet. Do not provide ANY personal information via email solicitations or even from companies thought to be reliable, without contacting the company, FIRST.
- Exercise your new rights under FACTA to review your credit record and report fraudulent activity. To order your credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print the form from http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/resources/forms/requestformfinal.pdf
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
- Dumpster Diving: Identity thieves literally rummage through your trash looking for bills or other valuable paper items with your personal information on it.
- Skimming: Thieves often steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing: They pretend to be or represent financial institutions or companies thought to be reliable and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal or "update" your personal information.
- Changing Your Address: They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing: They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
- Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
If you think you're a victim of identity theft or if you notice something suspicious, contact the following resources immediately:
- Contact Your Financial Institution: Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department, and follow up with a letter. If necessary, close old accounts and open new ones, and select new passwords and "PIN" numbers (Personal Identification Numbers). Your call also alerts the financial institution to a possible scam that may be targeting other customers.
- The Federal Trade Commission: The FTC is the federal agency responsible for receiving and processing complaints by individuals who believe they may be victims of identity theft. Trained counselors will provide information on the steps you should take to resolve identity-related problems and repair damage to your credit record. Certain cases may be referred to law enforcement agencies, regulatory agencies or private entities that can help. Call toll-free 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338). The FTC also maintains the U.S. government's central Web site for information about identity theft at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. Go there to fill out an online consumer complaint form or link to educational materials.
- The Three Major Credit Bureaus: Ask these bureaus to place a fraud alert on your file, so that lenders and other users of credit reports will be careful before starting or changing accounts in your name. The special toll-free numbers for the fraud departments are: Equifax at (800) 525-6285, Experian at (888) 397-3742 and TransUnion at (800) 680-7289.
- After an identity theft has occurred, obtain a Police Report: Fill out a police report that will detail the identity theft. Obtain a copy of the completed report for your records as it can help you validate questions and/or issues that can arise when dealing with your creditors and other financial institutions.