What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when somebody steals your name and other personal information for fraudulent purposes. Identity theft is a form of identity crime where somebody uses a false identity to commit a crime.
HOW THIEVES STEAL MY IDENTITIES?
- Dumpster diving - Thieves rummage through trash cans for pieces of unshredded personal information that they can use or sell.
- Mail theft – Thieves steal from unattended/unlocked mailboxes to obtain pre-approved credit card offers, bank statements, tax forms, and/or convenience checks. They also look for credit card payment envelopes left in the mailbox for postal carrier pick-up.
- Spyware - Cyber-thieves use a software application that can be remotely installed on your computer without your knowing. This special snoopware lets the thief access everything you do online.
- Purse/wallet theft - Stolen purses and wallets usually contain plenty of bank cards and personal identification.
- Phishing scams (link to Phishing page) - Thieves who appear to be trusted financial institutions use phony emails to trick victims into sharing their financial and personal information.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF MY IDENTITY IS STOLEN?
A skilled thief can quickly assume an individual's identity to conduct numerous crimes such as:
- Opening new bank accounts and writing bad checks
- Establishing new credit card accounts and not paying the bills
- Obtaining personal or car loans
- Getting cash advances from credit cards
- Establishing a cellular phone or utility service and running up bills
- Changing credit card mailing address and charging on existing accounts
- Obtaining employment
- Renting an apartment, then avoiding rent payments and getting evicted
One of the biggest problems with cases involving identity theft is that it can take months before the victim is aware of any wrongdoing. The victim typically learns of the crime after he or she receives a collection agency letter or is turned down for a loan because of a negative credit rating. When it gets to this point, a victim will often end up spending many hours reclaiming his or her identity and straightening out financial matters.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I'VE BECOME A VICTIM OF IDENTITY THEFT?
Contact one of the following three national credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your records and request a copy of your credit report.
- Equifax: 1.888.766.0008
- Experian: 1.888.397.3742
- TransUnion: 1.800.680.7289
Close all accounts that you know or think have been tempered with or opened fraudulently.
File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report or at the very least, the number of the report, to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
File a complaint with the FTC. The FTC handles complaints from victims of identity theft, provides information to those victims, and refers complaints to appropriate entities, including the major credit-reporting agencies and law enforcement agencies.
FTC phone number: 1.877.438.4338
HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF AGAINST IDENTITY THEFT?
- Shred all personal and financial information (i.e., bank statements, credit/ATM receipts, credit card offers, credit card bills, etc.) before you throw them away.
- Keep your personal and bank/credit card records in a secure place.
- Don't give your Social Security Number, credit card number, or any bank account details over the phone unless you have initiated the call and know the business that you are dealing with is reputable.
- Keep your purse and wallet in a safe place.
- Keep forms and documents with sensitive personal information in a locked drawer.
- Promptly remove incoming mail from your mailbox. Install a locking mailbox if mail theft is a big problem in your community.
- Don't leave envelopes containing your credit card payments or checks in your home mailbox for postal carrier pickup.
- Call the post office immediately if you are not receiving your mail.
- If your Social Security Number is being used for identification purposes (i.e., health insurance, doctor's office), request another method of identification.
- Memorize your Social Security Numbers and/or passwords. Don't record them on paper and store them in your wallet or purse.
- Limit the number of credit cards and other personal information that you carry in your wallet of purse.
- Don't leave receipts containing your full account number at ATMs, bank counters, or unattended gasoline pumps.
- Obtain a copy of your credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies annually and review to make sure no one else is using your identity.
- Don't disclose bank account numbers, credit card account numbers, or personal financial data on any website or online service location unless you are absolutely sure the business you are dealing with is legitimate.
- Use anti-spyware and anti-virus software and update regularly.