Your Good Name Gone Bad
Identity theft occurs when someone obtains a person's identifying information, such as name, address, date of birth, social security number or mother's maiden name. Using this information illegally, an imposter can open new credit card accounts, drain your bank accounts, purchase automobiles, apply for loans, open utility services and on and on. No matter how cautious you are, you cannot guarantee that a criminal will not obtain your information. The following steps will tell you what the warning signs are, how to protect yourself, what to do if you become a victim and the resources you will need.
Often there are no warning signs. However, be aware of a problem if your monthly credit card and bank statements suddenly stop arriving, you are denied credit for no apparent reason, you start getting bills from companies you do not recognize, or credit collection agencies try to collect on debts that do not belong to you.
How to Protect Yourself:
Ask your bank, doctor's office, other businesses and your employer how they use and protect your personal information.Never carry your Social Security card, Social Security number, birth certificate or passport, unless necessary. Do not put your address, telephone number or driver's license number on a credit card sales receipt. Social Security numbers or phone numbers should not be put on checks. Identifying information should not be given over the phone or Internet to someone you do not know or on a cellular or cordless phone. Shred all personal documents before placing them in the trash. If your state uses your Social Security number as your driver's license number, ask for another number.
Get a copy of your credit report every year. Keep your financial records out of sight. Burglars are just as interested in credit cards, bank accounts and investment statements as they are in your TV, jewelry and other valuables. Check monthly credit card statements for charges you did not make. If monthly statements do not arrive in the mail, call the lender immediately. Keep a list, in a safe place, of all credit card and bank account numbers, phone numbers and expiration dates. Only use your credit card on the Internet if it will be encrypted. Shred financial or confidential information such as credit card pre-approvals, credit card receipts, etc. If you have credit cards you do not use, store them in a safe place. Cancel the accounts if you will not use them again. Cut up old credit cards before discarding. Carry only the credit cards you plan to use. When you have applied for a new credit card, keep your eye on the mail and the calendar. If the card does not arrive within the appropriate time, call the credit card company. Do not use your mother's maiden name as a password for accounts. Make one up. Unless your mailbox is secure, mail payments at the post office and pick up new checks at your bank. If you are not interested in pre-approved credit offers, opt-out by calling 1-888-5-opt-out.
What to do if You Have Become a Victim:
- In the process of resolving the theft of your identity, be sure to keep records of all correspondence with the creditors and government agencies you contact. Include the date and name of the contact. Follow up all telephone contacts with a letter and keep a copy for yourself.
- Notify all creditors and financial institutions, in writing and by phone, that your name and accounts have been used without your permission. If an existing account has been stolen, ask the creditor or bank to issue you new cards, checks and account numbers. Carefully monitor the account activity on your statements. Report fraudulent activity to the issuing company immediately. The Fair Credit billing Act (FCBA) is a federal law that limits a consumer's responsibility for fraudulent charges to $50.00.
- Immediately report the crime to local police. Provide them with as much documentation as possible. Make sure that the accounts are listed on the police report. Also, get a copy of the police report. Credit card companies, banks and credit reporting agencies may require you to show a police report to support your claim that a crime was committed.
- Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC collects complaints about identity theft from consumers and stores them in a secure online database called the Consumer Sentinel that is available to law enforcement agencies worldwide. The FTC provides information on ways to resolve problems resulting from identity theft and refers individuals to various private and government agencies for further action. Write the FTC at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580 or e-mail them.
- Contact the fraud units of the three credit reporting agencies:Equifax (1-800-525-6285), Experian (1-888-397-3742) or TransUnion (1-800-680-7289).Ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report to prevent new fraudulent accounts from being opened. As an ID fraud victim, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report. Also, ask the agencies for a copy of your credit report every three months once you have become a victim. This can help determine how many and which accounts listed are fraudulent. You can also identify the existing accounts that have been stolen.
- Ask utility companies (local and long distance telephone service providers, gas, electric and water companies) to watch out for anyone ordering services in your name. If someone has ordered services in your name, cancel those accounts. If you have trouble with falsified accounts, contact your state Pubic Utility Commission.