What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft refers to the unauthorized use of your personal identifying information, such as your name, Social Security number, or credit card number to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft is the nation’s fastest growing crime according to FBI statistics and identity theft/fraud is the fastest-growing category of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaints. The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identity stolen each year.
Identity theft takes many forms. Criminals may lease a car, obtain a credit card, or open a bank account in your name. Sadly, most people do not discover that they are victims of an identity theft until it is too late. You may not realize that you are the victim of an identity theft until you review your credit report or credit card statements or until you are contacted by a debt collector.
How Do Criminals Steal Your Identity?
Determined identity thieves rely on a variety of methods to obtain your personal information. Here are some of the ways imposters can get your personal information and take over your identity:
They steal wallets and purses containing your identification.
They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paperwork with your personal information on it.
They steal credit/debit car numbers, commonly called skimming, by using a special storage device when processing your card for a purchase.
They may pretend to be a financial institution or business to induce you to reveal personal information over the internet.
They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form
What Should You Do If Your Identity Is Stolen?
Close The Account
Immediately notify by telephone the fraud department for any account that you believe was tampered with or opened fraudulently. Then follow up in writing and include copies of supporting documents. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep a file of your correspondence.
Place A Fraud Alert
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your credit reports carefully. A fraud alert will can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below to place a fraud alert. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert:
Once you place the fraud alert on your file, you are entitled to order free copies of your credit reports.
Check your credit reports carefully. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed. Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft to ensure that no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
Make A Police Report
Any type of identity theft should be immediately reported to your local Police Department. A police report will serve to document the theft of your information as well as initiate a police investigation into the theft. Additionally, most financial institutions and credit card companies will require a police report to validate your fraud claim. Visit our eServices section, specifically “Make a Police Report,” to file a police report, or stop by our station.
File A Complaint With The FTC
By sharing your identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer complaints to other government agencies for further action. You can file a complaint by calling the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline: 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
How Can I Minimize The Risk Of Identity Theft?
Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your date of birth, or the last four digits of your SSN when using accounts that require a password or PIN. When you open new accounts, you may find that many businesses still have a line on their applications for your mother’s maiden name. Ask to use a password instead.
Be sure to secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home. Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctors’ offices, and other institutions that collect your personally identifying information. Inquire about the disposal procedures for those records, as well.
Never give out your personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you are sure you know who you are dealing with or unless you initiated the contact. Remember, identity thieves are clever and have posed as representatives of banks, businesses, and even government agencies to get people to reveal their personal information.
Treat your mail and trash carefully. Deposit your mail in post office collection boxes or at the post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Be sure to promptly remove your mail from the mailbox. To deter thieves from picking through your trash to obtain your personal information, shred your charge receipts, insurance forms, bank statements, cancelled checks, and credit applications. Also, put a stop to all those unsolicited credit card offers that show up in the mail everyday. Call 1-888-567-8688 to opt out of receiving those offers of credit and reduce the amount of junk mail you will have to shred. Note: you will be asked to provide your SSN to match with your file when you call.
Review your credit report on a regular basis to catch any fraudulent activity as soon as possible. The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows consumers to get one free copy of their credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies every 12 months. By staggering your requests, you can obtain a free copy of your report every 4 months. Check out annualcreditreport.com for more information.