Identity Theft

 

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How Identity Theft Occurs

Thieves use a variety of ways to gain access to your personal information.  For example, hacking into records; bribing information out of employees; stealing information while at work. Or:

  • They may steal your wallet or purse.
  • They may steal your debit card/ATM or credit card number by capturing the information in a data storage device in a practice known as “skimming”.
  • They may go through your trash in a practice known as “dumpster diving”.
  • They may steal your personal information through e-mail or the phone by saying they are from a legitimate company.  This practice is known as “phishing” online, or “pretexting” by phone.
  • They may get your credit reports by posing as an employer or someone else who may have a legal right to your credit report.
  • They may use personal information found in your home.
  • They may steal your mail.
  • They may complete  a “change of address” form to divert your mail to another location.

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may use it to commit fraud or theft.   For example:

  • They may call your credit card company to change the billing address on your account.
  • They may open new credit card accounts in your name.
  • They may establish phone or wireless service in your name.
  • They may open a bank account in your name.
  • They may buy a vehicle in your name.
  • They may get a driver’s license in your name.
  • They may give your name to the police during an arrest.
  • They may file bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts.

How can you tell if you’re a victim of Identity Theft?

  • You may notice new account activity on your credit report.
  • You may notice that you are not receiving your bills or other mail.
  • You may receive credit cards that you did not apply for.
  • You may receive calls from debt collectors or companies about merchandise or services you didn’t purchase.

How can a responsible consumer minimize the risk of identity theft?

  • Place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. 
  • Secure personal information in your home.
  • Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctors’ offices, or other institutions that collect your personal identifying information.
  • Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or are sure you know who you are dealing with.
  • Treat your mail and trash carefully.
  • Opt out of receiving credit offers in the mail that are based on your credit report, call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).
  • Do not carry your social security card in your purse or wallet.
  • Only carry credit cards that you actually need.
  • Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.
  • When ordering new checks, request them to be delivered to the bank for pick up.

Consider Your Computer

Here are some ways to help keep your computer – and the personal information it stores – safe.

  • Do not open files sent to you by strangers, download programs from people or companies that you do not know.
  • Update your virus protection software regularly.
  • Update security patches for your operating system frequently.
  • Use a firewall program which allows you to stop uninvited access to your computer.
  • Before providing any personal information on a website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins “https:”. (the “s” stands for secure).
  • Try not to store financial information on your laptop.  If you do, make sure you have a strong password.  A password that is a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols.  Don’t use automatic log-in feature that saves your user name an password, and always log off when finished.   If using a laptop, you may want to encrypt your hard drive, this will make it harder for a thief to access your personal information.
  • Look for website privacy policies, and read them.  If you don’t see a privacy policy – or if you don’t understand it – consider doing business somewhere else.

If someone has used your name or other personal information to commit a fraud, please visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft for information on how to proceed and how to file an identity theft complaint.  If you don’t have access to internet, call 1-877-ID-THEFT.

If your personal information has been lost or stolen:

If you act quickly you can minimize identity theft by doing the following:

  • If you suspect identity theft of your financial accounts – close the accounts and open up new accounts with a password.  Avoid using common names such as mother’s maiden name, etc.
  • Call the toll-free fraud number of any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports if your social security number was lost or stolen.
  • Contact the agency that issued your license or other identification document.  Follow their procedures to cancel the document and to get a replacement if your license were lost or stolen.
  • Ask the agency to flag your driver’s license or other identification file so that no one else can get a license or any other identification document in your name.
  • Watch for signs that your information is being misused, and that your identity has been stolen.
  • If your information has been misused, file a police report about the theft, and file a compliant with the FTC, as well.

IDENTITY THEFT VICTIMS: IMMEDIATE STEPS

If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps immediately.  Keep records of your conservations and copies of all correspondence.

  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports frequently.
  • Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • File a report with your local police where the identity theft happened.
  • File a compliant with the Federal Trade Commission.  You can file a compliant online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.  If you don’t have internet access, you can call the FTC’s Identity Theft

Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338. 
You also should get a copy of the FTC publication, Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft, a comprehensive guide that describes how to handle special problems you may encounter on the way to clearing your name, what to do, your legal rights, and what to watch for in the future.  The guide also includes the ID Theft Affidavit to help you report information to many companies.  For more information, see www.consumers.gov/idtheft.