What is identity theft?
Identity can be “stolen” if someone appropriates your personal information to commit fraud or theft.
Can you completely prevent identity theft from affecting you?
If someone is determined to use your personal information to commit a crime, you probably can’t stop it before it happens. You can, however, minimize the risk.
How do identity thieves get personal information?
- Stealing wallets or purses that carry identification cards.
- Stealing incoming or outgoing mail, especially bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards, and tax information.
- Diverting mail by completing a change of address form.
- Rummaging through trash for personal information.
- Fraudulently obtaining credit reports by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who might have a legitimate and legal right to the information.
- Obtaining business or personnel records at work.
- Finding personal information in your home.
- Using personal information you shared on the Internet.
- Paying “insiders,” such as employees, who have access to applications and other paperwork that contain personal information.
What are the effects of identity theft?
- Someone uses your name, date of birth, and Social Security Number (SSN) to open new accounts without paying the bills. The delinquency status goes on your credit report.
- Someone calls your credit card company, pretending to be you, to change your mailing address. If you are unaware of your billing cycle, it might be more than a month before you notice that an identity thief has been charging purchases under your name.
- Someone establishes cellular phone service in your name and runs up a bill for which you are responsible.
- Someone opens a bank account in your name and overdraws the account, damaging your credit.
- Someone files bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they incurred under your name to avoid eviction from their residence or work location; your credit would be marred for up to seven years.
- Someone counterfeits checks or debit cards in your name to drain your account.
- Someone buys a vehicle by securing an auto loan in your name, which becomes part of your debt load.
Minimize Your Risk
- Never give your SSN over the phone.
- Shred the mailing label area of all your discarded mail, all outdated business cards, cancelled checks, credit card and debit card receipts, bank statements, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, etc.
- Request that only your name and address be printed on your checks; never include non-essential information, such as your phone number, SSN, driver’s license number, or birth date, etc.
- Before you reveal any personal information, find out how it will be used, whether or not it will be shared, and if you have a choice to keep your information confidential.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Delayed bills could mean that someone changed your account information or your mailing address.
- Guard your mail from theft by putting outgoing mail in U.S. Postal Service collection boxes or taking it to the post office.
- If possible, do not use unsecured, street side drop boxes for your home mail deliveries. Thieves cruise the streets looking in them for mail that informs them about your identity. Install a locked drop box or rent a secure mail service box.
- Assign passwords to your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid easily remembered passwords that can be traced to your personal information. Use passwords that are a combination of numbers, symbols, and upper and lower case letters.
- Be mindful of where you keep your personal information at home, with respect to roommates, hired service providers, and those who are authorized to be in your home when you are away.
- Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry for your actual needs.
- Do not provide personal information over the phone, Internet, or through the mail unless you initiate the contact or know the representative.
- Ask who has access to your personal information at work and verify that the records are secure.
- Give your SSN only when necessary; do not carry your SSN card with you when you don’t need it; and use other forms of identification when possible.
- Order a copy of your credit report once a year from the three major credit reporting agencies. Make sure it is accurate, representing only those activities you authorized.
- Never give your SSN over the phone.
What You Should Do If Someone Steals Your Identity
US Dept. of Justice Website
- Call Member Fraud Information at (707) 469-4384 or toll free at (800) 877-8328, press 6, ext.4384 as well as all your other financial institutions.
- Call the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) toll-free identity theft hotline at (877) 438-4338. The FTC will add your name to a consumer fraud data base that may be shared with law enforcement agencies and private entities, including the company you report in connection with the theft.
- Call the three main credit bureaus.
- File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report as evidence of the crime. It will help you work with your creditors.
- If the crime involved the U.S. Postal Service, report the crime to your local postal inspector.
- If the crime involved financial accounts, close the account(s) immediately. Open new accounts that require passwords.
- If the crime involved stolen checks, arrange to stop payment immediately. Stolen debit and ATM cards should be cancelled. New cards should have different personal identification numbers (PINs) from those that were stolen.
- If the crime involved a phone service, contact the service provider to cancel the account and/or calling card. Open new accounts and choose new PINs.
- If the crime involved your SSN, contact the Social Security Administration’s hotline at (800) 269-0271. To verify the accuracy of your earnings statement, order a copy of your earnings report by calling (800) 772-1213.
- If the crime involved false bankruptcy, call the U.S. Trustee in the region where it was filed. The number can be found in the Blue Pages of the phone book.
- If the crime involved a false driver’s license, contact the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- If the crime resulted in an arrest record in your name, you may need to secure an attorney to clear your name.