Identity Theft Safety

 

What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a crime. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. Sometimes criminals may use identity theft to mask their real identity to undertake serious crime.
How does a thief steal your identity?

An identity thief is after information that personally identifies you. This information may include your name, date of birth, address, financial account information, credit card numbers, or social security number.

Most of us do not realize how easy it is to obtain personal data.

Common ways an identity thief may obtain your personal information
  • Shoulder surfing – A thief may watch you from a nearby location and observe you type in information such as your credit card number, PIN, or calling card number. They may listen in on a conversation where you give your credit card number over the phone to a hotel or other merchant.
  • Dumpster Diving – A thief can obtain valuable information discarded in your trash, such as credit card or bank statements, checks, or other records that contain your name, address, or phone number. A thief may also use a discarded credit card offer you put in the trash to open an account in your name, and then use the account for fraudulent purposes.
  • Changing your address – A criminal may attempt to complete a change of address form to have your billing statements and other mail sent to another address.
  • Skimming – During an otherwise legal transaction using your credit or bank card, a thief may photograph, copy, or use a small electronic device that captures and stores credit and bank card information.
  • Phishing – Through the use of spam, pop-up messages, or other fake email offers, a thief can obtain bank account information, credit card numbers, or other financial information.
  • Stealing – A thief may steal your wallet, purse, or mail to use your credit cards or personal information.
  • Pretexting – Through the use of false pretenses, a criminal may obtain your information from financial institutions, utility companies, telephone companies, or other sources which may have your personal information.
Ways to help minimize the opportunity for a criminal to steal your identity
  • Be careful when giving out any personal or financial information. We may use our credit cards, debit cards, or other financial transaction methods several times a day. Be mindful of who you are giving your information to and be alert to any suspicious activity on your financial accounts.
  • Ask questions about how your personal information will be used before you give it to anyone. If you do not absolutely have to give personal information, do not give it. You may have the choice to not provide information requested, such as telephone numbers, addresses, or other valuable information.
  • If you do not receive credit card bills or other financial statements on time, follow-up on them quickly. Consider paperless statements.
  • Only provide your social security number when absolutely necessary. Other forms of identification may suffice.
  • Carry only the identification and credit/bank cards you need. If your ID or credit/bank cards are stolen, immediately notify your creditors and/or financial institution by calling them. You then should call the three credit bureaus to request a fraud alert be placed in your file.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year. Check for accuracy, any suspicious transactions, or unauthorized activity. Under federal law, you are entitled to a free report from each of the three major agencies every 12 months. Click here to request yours.
  • Guard all personal information carefully. Shred bills, statements, receipts, credit applications/offers, expired credit cards, and any other information containing personal or financial information as soon as you no longer need them.
What to do if you become the victim of Identity Theft
  1. Immediately contact the fraud units of the three principal credit bureaus.

    EQUIFAX

    PO Box 740241

    Atlanta, GA 30374

    (888) 766-0008

    File a report online

    TRANSUNION

    PO Box 2000

    Chester, PA 19022-2000

    (800) 680-7289

    File a report online

    EXPERIAN

    PO Box 1017

    Allen, TX 75013

    (888) 397-3742

    File a report online

    • Describe the situation completely. The credit bureaus will also remove you from a list the agencies provide for pre-approved credit.
    • Ask that a fraud alert or protective statement be added to your credit file. Ask how long the statement will remain on your credit file. It should stay on your file for at least a year. When a credit grantor accesses your credit file and sees the fraud alert, they should contact you at your home phone to verify that it was you who requested the credit. You can also add a victim’s statement to your report. “My ID has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Contact me at (your phone number) to verify all applications.”
    • Although these measures may not completely stop new fraudulent accounts from being opened by the thief, they will greatly help. Request a copy of your credit report every few months to monitor new accounts and detect fraud or suspicious activity
  2. If an account has been fraudulently opened or accessed, contact the security departments for the appropriate creditor/financial institution. Have the accounts closed.
  3. Report the crime to the local police and obtain a copy of your report to provide to financial institutions or credit companies if requested, and for your personal file.
  4. Contact the Federal Trade Commission
    • Access the on-line ID theft complaint form
    • Call toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502
    • Or by mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20580
Helpful websites for information concerning Identity Theft and Fraud