Protecting Against Identy Theft
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country, and often little more than a name or Social Security Number (SSN) is needed to steal someone's identity. During 2003, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly 215,000 reports of identity theft, up from 162,000 from the previous year. In fact, identity theft represented 42 percent of all complaints received by the FTC.
Daily Activity Exposures
You might be surprised to learn how many of your daily activities expose you to this crime. Do you use your SSN for identification? Do you use an online banking service? Do you receive credit card offers in the mail? Do you use your computer to shop online? If so, you could potentially become a victim of identity theft.
These actions place you at risk of being a victim of identity theft because each requires you to share personal information with others. This same personal information can be used by identity thieves to commit fraud. You can minimize your risk of being a victim of identity theft by managing your personal information properly.
Ways to Get Personal Information
There are many ways criminals can get your personal information. They can:
- Steal records from their employer.
- Hack into an organization's computer that contains your information.
- Rummage through trash (also called dumpster-diving).
- Steal wallets and purses.
- Steal mail, including bank and credit card statements.
- Scam information from others by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.
- Complete a Change of Address form to divert your mail to another location.
Once criminals obtain your personal information, there are a variety of crimes they can commit in your name. For example, they can:
- Go on a spending spree with your credit or debit card and rack up charges in your name.
- Open new credit cards in your name (and when they don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported in your name to your credit bureau).
- Take out auto loans in your name.
- Establish phone or wireless service in your name.
- Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.
- File for bankruptcy under your name.
Signs to Watch For
There are signs that you can watch for that might indicate that you have become a victim of identity theft. Most importantly, you should monitor the balances of your financial accounts. Check for unexplained charges or withdrawals. Other signs can be:
- Failing to receive bills or other mail, signaling an address change by an identity thief.
- Receiving credit cards for which you did not apply.
- Denial of credit for no apparent reason.
- Receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about merchandise or services you did not buy.
Tips to Protect You from Identity Theft
- Do not give out your SSN to people or companies you do not know.
- Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or are sure you know who you're dealing with. (Double check by calling customer service using the number on your account statement or in the phone book.)
- Before disclosing any personal information, make sure you know why it is required and how it will be used.
- Shred information that you no longer need that contains personally identifiable information and account numbers (credit card receipts, billing statements, pre-approved credit card offers).
- Guard your mail from theft.
- Do not carry extra credit cards, your birth certificate or passport, or other cards that display your SSN in your purse or wallet.
- Use a secure browser to guard the safety of your online transactions.
- Use a firewall to prevent uninvited access to your computer files.
- Read Web site privacy policies.
Get a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies at least once a year & review them.
If You're a Victim
If you are a victim of identity theft:
- Contact the three major credit reporting agencies above and place a fraud alert on your credit report.
- Contact all the creditors involved. Often, you can file the ID theft affidavit.
- Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- File a police report.
- Contact the FTC (1-877-IDTHEFT).
- Keep a record of all your contacts.