Identity Theft

We’ve all heard of identity theft, but we may not have heard about how often it occurs and how we put ourselves at risk. The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2003, and the number of reported cases is on the rise.

There are things we can do to avoid becoming victims of identity theft. Here are some important tips:

Check your credit report: You can go to Annualcreditreport.com to request free credit reports. Make sure to check your credit card for false accounts and pay close attention to all purchases made in your name.

Guard your social security number: If you have any sort of identification in your wallet with your social security number on it, get it removed. There is no need for it to be on your checks, driver’s license, etc. Only give out your social security number when it is absolutely necessary and you are sure that the business or organization is trustworthy.

Be extra careful in the workplace: One of the most common places where identity theft occurs is in the workplace, and theft of business records is its number one source. Therefore, always ask your employer what policies they have to protect your identity. These policies should:

  • Prohibit the use of your social security number as an identifier.
  • Restrict access to you and your customers' personal information.
  • Explain basic security precautions, such as locking storage areas where sensitive information is kept, using passwords to access personal information, and training employees who handle sensitive information.
  • Guard against identity theft by employees, especially temporary or contract workers.
  • Require destruction of personal information once it is no longer needed.

Take extra precautions online: According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than half of all reported identity thefts take place online. The first thing you can do to protect yourself is to not download or open files from strangers. These files can contain viruses that allow thieves to access your personal information from your computer. In addition, always use a firewall for high-speed internet connections and use a secure browser that scrambles the information you send over the internet. Also, when purchasing things online use a credit card instead of a debit card.

Watch out for debit cards: Credit cards are safer than debit cards and you have more rights that protect you in case of identity theft when using a credit card. You should never use debit cards online, and it's best not to use them at all. If you do use one, however, be extra careful not to lose it and to know that the business or organization you use it for is trustworthy.

What you should know about credit cards: Try to carry as few credit cards with you as possible, and keep a list of all your accounts in a secure place. This information should include account numbers, expiration dates, and telephone numbers of customer service and fraud departments in case something goes wrong. Make a note of when cards are coming and call the company if the card doesn't arrive on time. Finally, always cancel inactive credit cards because you may lose track of unusual activity if it occurs.

Keep track of all financial accounts: It is important to review your statements on a regular basis to make sure everything looks right. Also, dispose of your receipts and statements in a way that they won't be accessible to 'dumpster divers.' When you order checks, you should pick them up at the bank rather then have them mailed to you, and you should destroy all checks when you close a checking account

Know the warning signs of identity theft: If phone calls have been made to your bank's security department asking about your purchases by someone other than yourself, you could be in danger. The same goes for phone calls from debt collectors about debts you don't owe. If your card is rejected in a merchant transaction, if odd accounts are appearing on your credit report, or if you are receiving bills for accounts you did not open, you should worry!

What To Do if You're A Victim

In general, if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, you should not be responsible for fraudulent charges, but you do need to clear your name. To lessen the impact of fraud and theft, take the following steps immediately.

Contact one of the three major credit bureaus: Place a fraud alert on your credit report and obtain free credit reports. Once your alert has been confirmed by the credit bureau, the other two bureaus will be notified and all three must send you a free credit report. Fraud victims are entitled to a free report from each bureau, even if they have already obtained one under their state’s law.

The bureaus will immediately send you additional information, including information how to (1) extend your initial 90-day fraud alert to 7 years, (2) How to file fraud affidavits to dispute charges made by a thief to clear your name, and (3) how to block false trade lines from appearing on your report. You’ll need to check your reports again to make sure these steps are taken. Victims are entitled to 2 additional reports for free in the year after filing an extended fraud alert.

Contact the credit bureaus to set up fraud alerts and block false information from appearing on your report

Equifax:
(800) 525-6285
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348.

Experian:
(888) 397-3742
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, Texas 75013

TransUnion:
(800) 680-7289
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022 

Military personnel: If you are active duty military personnel you can request a military fraud alert to protect yourself - even if you have not been victimized. This will help prevent credit from being issued in your name while you may not be promptly seeing your mail.

Remove accounts from your credit report that aren’t yours:Ask companies to close any accounts that have been opened fraudulently. Close any of your accounts that have been tampered with.

File a report with local police: Over half of consumer fraud and identity theft is never reported to law enforcement. However, police may be able to recover stolen money and prevent further crime. In some instances, you won’t qualify for legal protections unless you have filed a police report.

File complaints with government agencies: Go to the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline (877-IDTHEFT) or visit the FTC ID Theft Gateway.You can also complain to your state Attorney General. Get his or her address here.