Identity Theft - What You Should Know

With a reported 500,000 new victims each tear, identity theft has become the fastest rising crime in America. The general Accounting Office of the United States Congress, for example, reported that requests for assistance from the Trans Union Credit Bureau’s Fraud Victim Department increased from approximately 35,000 in 1992 to almost 523,000 during 1999. The purpose of this Information is to provide you facts about the crime of identity theft and to provide measures that can be taken by consumers to avoid its occurrence.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and utilizes it to obtain loans, services, vehicles, credit cards, bank accounts, and even jobs. Thieves only need to know your social security number, name, and address in order to perpetrate their fraud and destroy your hard-earned credit. Some identity thieves obtain information by stealing your purse, wallet, or by intercepting your mail. Others may steal your garbage to obtain revealing information about you, but more frequently, identity thieves obtain the information they need by accessing public records over the Internet. Numerous companies are in the business of collecting and distributing personal information. With today’s technology information about you is just a mouse-click away.

In addition to obtaining credit in your name, professional thieves can produce authentic looking social security cards, driver’s licenses, passports, birth certificates, and other documents to assume your identity.

How Do I Protect Myself?

These and other protective measures will not absolutely guarantee that you will never become a victim of identity theft, but employing one or more of these can drastically reduce your risk:

  1. Give your social security number only when it is absolutely necessary, and do not carry your social security card with you. Leave it at home in a secure place.
  2. Periodically request a free copy of your social security personal earnings and benefit statement from the Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213).
  3. Memorize your ATM password and shield your hand when entering your password.
  4. Do not place bill payments in your mailbox for pick-up. Mail your bills directly at the post office.
  5. Shred all documents containing personal information especially bills, credit card receipts, pre-approved credit card offers, and bank statements, before you throw them away.
  6. Annually obtain a copy of your credit report from the three major credit-reporting agencies.
    1. Trans Union – 1-800-680-7289
    2. Equifax – 1-800-525-6285
    3. Experian – 1-800-301-7195
Immediately correct all mistakes identified on your credit report in writing. Approximately 70% of all credit reports contain some erroneous information.

  1. Have your name removed from lists sold to companies offering pre-approved credit cards by contacting the three credit reporting agencies and taking advantage of their “opt-out” service. One number reaches all three agencies: 1-888-567-8688.
  2. Do not give your credit card number over the telephone unless you have initiated the call. Ensure that neither you nor the called party is using a mobile or cellular telephone.
  3. When you purchase items with your credit card, take your receipts with you, do not toss them away.
  4. Do not put your credit card number on the Internet unless it is an encrypted or secured site.

What If I Become A Victim of Identity Theft?

Identity theft forms are available at the bottom of this page

Identity theft can occur even if you have been careful about protecting your personal information because of the ever-increasing skill employed by professional thieves. The exact steps that you should take after becoming a victim of identity theft will vary depending upon your circumstances, but in most instances, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Contact the security department of the respective financial institution, both verbally and in writing, for each account that has been opened or tampered with and close these accounts. The federal Fair Credit Billing Act limits your liability for unauthorized charges to $50.00, but it’s your responsibility to make the appropriate notification, in writing, within 60 days after the fraudulent activity has been discovered. Once the Financial institution acknowledges the fraud, ask them to send all three credit reporting agencies a letter confirming fraudulent activity.
  2. Contact the fraud departments for each of the three credit reporting agencies and report that your identity has been stolen. Ask for a fraud alert to be placed onto your account. This will ensure that no credit will be granted without your explicit approval. Also request a copy of your credit report. This is free to victims of fraud.
  3. File a complaint with your local police department or the law enforcement agency where the identity theft took place. Also, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Identity Theft Hotline by telephone at 1-877-IDTHEFT. Although the FTC has no criminal law enforcement authority, they can pursue civil remedies and assist victims in resolving problems associated with the crime.
  4. Report the fraudulent use of your social security number to the United States Social Security Administration at 1-800-269-0271. Under certain circumstances, a new social security number may be issued.
  5. Notify you’re nearest United States Postal Inspection Service if you suspect the theft of your mail.
  6. If your ATM card has been lost or if your password has been compromised, immediately notify your bank. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act limits your losses to $50.00 if you make this report within two business days. If you wait more than 60 days to make a tip report, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account.
  7. If checks were stolen or fraudulent bank accounts were established, report this to your bank and to the major check verification companies:
    1. Trans Union – 1-800-680-7289
    2. Equifax – 1-800-525-6285
    3. Experian – 1-800-301-7195
    Request that they notify retailers who use their service that you were the victim of identity theft.
  1. If you’re a victim of identity theft, never agree to pay any portion of the debt just to get collection agencies off the case. The Fair Debt Collection Act prohibits collectors from contacting you if within 30 days after you receive their written notice, you send them a letter refuting the debt. Along with your letter, send supporting documentation (police report, letters from credit reporting agencies, etc.) to substantiate your position.

Conclusions

The cost of identity theft can be substantial. In just a short period of time, identity thieves can accumulate thousands of dollars in debt for their victims. Although existing laws limit the financial liability of victims, the consequences to their hard-earned credit are often considerable. The victims are left with the burdensome task of repairing the damage by themselves, and in the meantime, they may be denied loans, mortgages, bank accounts, and even employment.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to protect yourself entirely from identity theft, but following the safeguards outlined herein can certainly reduce your risk. Publications by the Federal trade Commission (FTC) can be provide further information on how to prevent identity theft. These publications can be obtained by contacting the FTC by telephone at 1-877-IDTHEFT or by visiting their websites at http://www.ftc.gov or at http://www.consumer.gov. Phone counselors at the FTC can assist callers on how to take advantage of their consumer rights and on what actions need to be taken to restore credit.

Identity Theft Forms

Identity Theft Consent Form                  Identity Theft Affidavit