Understanding the definition of Identity Theft is the first step you can take to guard yourself against it.
What is Identity Theft
Simply put, Identity Theft is a crime involving first collecting personal and financial information about you then using it to impersonate you for financial gain.
Your identity is said to be “stolen” because another party uses your identifying information in order to take out loans, apply for and receive credit cards to make purchases with, apply for bankruptcy, sully your good name in the commission of a crime, or to receive medical care.
Why Identity Theft is a Problem
Someone using your name and identity at the hospital could cause you harm or even kill you. What if the person posing as you happened to be diabetic or HIV positive? And what are you going to do when the bill arrives? Yikes! If you apply for a new credit card, car or mortgage loan you’re going to find it very difficult to get credit. If a new employer or conducts a background check and discovers your credit is a mess you could lose out on a great job. You could even have trouble renting a house or apartment because they do background checks, too.
If you fall victim to Identity Theft, clearing your name is going to be a time-consuming and possibly expensive task. You might find your credit ruined and obtaining loans impossible. It’s a sad, harsh fact that repairing your credit is going to take far longer than it took to ruin it.
Identity Theft on the Internet
The internet is making it easier than ever for crooks to steal your identity by tricking people into handing them their personal information through phishing scams
We’re inundated with identity theft. It’s been around for some time now, but continues to be reported on as more and more incidents occur. As consumers are increasingly using the Internet for job searches, shopping, online banking, etc…it’s making it easier on thieves to acquire your identity. All they need is your name and Social Security number.
And they get this information by “phishing” for it. Phishing is the term used for trying to fraudulently obtain sensitive and personally identifiable information.
Phishing has become rampant on the Internet because it’s easy to do and people fall for it. These scams can come in the form of online auctions, emails disguised to look like they’re coming from your bank, or fake job offers. Some scammers “dumpster dive” to get at your identity information. All documents containing account numbers, your Social Security number or credit card “pre approvals” should always be shredded before going into your recycle bin.
Dodgy “posers” come in all kinds of flavors: bank employees, online auction representatives, telemarketers, email spammers, government agents or even law enforcement.
Don’t call us, we’ll call you
Sometimes those phishing for your personal data will call and present themselves as a representative from a company you normally do business with or as a member of a government agency (like the FBI or FDIC). They’ll ask for your personal information or immediate payment on a bill you might owe. Politely say you’re busy right now and ask them for a number you could call them back at. Then find another number for the company or agency, call them and ask if the call was genuine. We’re confident the call was bogus.
If our confidence turns out to be misplaced and the call is valid, then any legitimate company or agency won’t mind waiting for you to call them back.
How to Detect Identity Theft
Detecting identity theft is the first step towards repairing your credit and your good name. Monitor your financial accounts for suspicious activity on a regular basis. Being vigilent is one of your best defenses against ID theft. Below are several signs your identity may have been stolen. If you notice any of these signs take immediate action!
Warning signs your identity may have been stolen:
- Bills that don’t arrive when you expect them to.
- Credit card or financial account statements arrive that you never signed up for.
- You are unexpectedly denied credit.
- Calls, letters or emails regarding purchases you didn’t make.
- Loans statements arrive for loans you never requested.
- Debt collectors harrass you about debts you know nothing about.
Where to look for signs your identity has been stolen:
- Your credit report. Your credit report includes information about you such as your financial accounts and your payment history.
- The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – to give one free copy of your credit report each year upon request.
- Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these three credit reporting companies, to order your free annual credit report. You can also request your credit report via US Mail by writing to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta Georgia 30348-5281.
- Your financial statements. Casrefully look over your financial accounts and billing statements on a regular basis. Be wary of any charges you can’t recall making or activity you view as suspicious.
Children & ID Theft
Did you know that children are just as at risk of identity theft as an adult? What’s worse, if their identity is stolen it might go unnoticed for years.
Adults aren’t the only ones have their identity stolen. Children, even newborns, are vulnerable to becoming victims of identity theft and the results can be just as devastating and long-lasting for them as it is for adults. Many times the person committing this crime is a family member or friend of the family.
ID theft can go undetected
Criminals target children because the identity theft can go undetected for a long time allowing the perpetrator ample opportunity to damage your child’s credit. This crime may not be discovered until your child goes to open their first bank account or denied a college loan. It can even result in the police coming to your door to arrest your child for a crime they never committed.
Children are just as vulnerable to identity theft as adults but protecting them from this crime is up to their parents or guardians.
How you can help protect your child’s identity:
- Tell your kids never to share their personal information unless it’s absolutely necessary or have them ask you if it’s OK before they do. They need to be taught not to share passwords, their Social Security number, bank account information, including PIN numbers, or any other personal data.
- If someone asks you for a copy of your child’s birth certificate or social security number, ask why it’s necessary. There will be times when this is necessary – during school registration for example – but always question whether it is absolutely necessary. Also, don’t hesitate to ask the party requesting the information exactly how it will be stored and who, if anybody, besides them will have access to the information.
- Don’t carry Social Security cards around with you. Leave them at home.
- If bills and pre-approved credit card offers arrive in your child’s name, find out why. Don’t toss the savings account statement because “you know” that your four year old hasn’t made any withdrawals.
- Maintain password integrity. Older children with PINs or sensitive passwords should be taught to change them regularly. Tell them not to use their mother’s maiden name or birth date as a password. Have them store all electronic devices (cell phones, PDAs, laptops) securely. If your child’s school uses Social Security numbers as ID, ask about alternatives.
- Your child is entitled to one free credit report each year. Make sure you get one and look it over carefully for irregularities. Most of us should find no credit activity on their child’s credit report. It should either be blank or there should be no credit report at all. Finding nothing on your child’s credit report is no guarantee of safety but it’s a good sign.
- Credit reporting companies now have staff trained in juvenile identity theft. If you suspect your child’s identity has been stolen, contact them and tell them why you suspect fraud.
Tax-Related Identity Theft
During tax season the number one complaint from consumers, identity theft, increases.
During tax season the number one complaint from consumers, identity theft, increases. And the IRS is well aware of it. On their website, https://www.irs.gov/, they have a special article dedicated to “Identity Theft and Your Tax Records“. In this article the IRS gives information on how to protect yourself from tax related identity theft and steps for alerting the IRS if you believe your identity has already been stolen. The IRS makes it very clear at the beginning of the article that the IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers using email.
So, if you should receive an email message that looks like it came from the IRS, then you know it’s a scam. While it’s always important to protect your personal and financial information, we recommend being especially vigilant during January through April of each year.
A few tips regarding the IRS refund and Phishing scams
- The IRS does not ask anyone for personal or financial information via unsolicited emai
- Taxpayers do not have to complete special forms to receive their tax refunds
- Do not open attachments from emails purporting to be from the IRS because they may contain malicious code that could infect your computer
- Contact the IRS directly at 800-829-1040 to determine if the IRS is trying to reach you about a possible tax refund
Please keep in mind that as April 15 draws closer the frequency of tax-related phishing scams increases.
Voter Registration Identity Theft Scams
In a new identity theft scam, crooks are calling voters and asking them to confirm their voter registration by giving them their Social Security or credit card numbers
The FTC is reporting that identity thieves are taking advantage of the upcoming elections by targeting consumers with a new scam related to voter registration.
Americans have reported they’ve received unsolicited emails or phone calls from individuals claiming to work for local election boards or civic groups.
The purpose of these phone calls and emails is to verify voter registration or eligibility to vote. The messages claim that you can do this by giving them your Social Security number, credit card number or some other form of financial information.
As a rule, federal officials say, groups that conduct legitimate voter registration drives either contact you in person or give you a voter registration form to fill out and turn in.
They will never ask you to provide your financial information.
If you get an unsolicited phone call or email from someone who claims to need your Social Security number or other personal or financial information to register you to vote, report it to the FTC online at www.ftc.gov, or by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP.
If you already have shared your personal information with someone you don’t know, you may be the victim of a scam. If so, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft and file a complaint.
To register to vote – and to find out whether your state requires your Social Security number for registration – contact your local election office, or check the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s National Voter Registration Form at www.eac.gov/voter. Most states accept this form.
Each state has its own rules regarding when voters must register in order to be eligible to vote in an election and what the voter registration requirements are.
What To Do If You Fall Victim To Identity Theft
If you discover you’re the victim of identity theft, you need to act immediately. Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself.
If you’re the victim of identity theft and want to find out what you need to do, you’ve come to the right place. Our Identity Theft Victim Guide is intended to aid you in resolving identity theft problems and clearing your good name. Repairing your identity can be a long and baffling process. As you reach out to creditors, financial institutions and law enforcement, it’s critical to record all actions and conversations that occurred. You may want to use this course of action form to help you retain a record of your progress.
When your identity is taken, it can be changed in a mixture of different ways. As soon as you’re aware that your identity has been stolen or used by someone other than yourself, there are a number of fundamental steps you should take.
Step 1 – Report it to the credit companies
Report the occurrence to the fraud division of the three major credit bureaus.
- Ask each one of the credit bureaus to put a “fraud alert” on your credit report.
- Get free copies of your credit reports from all three credit bureaus.
- Examine the reports to see if any further false account creation activity has occurred or if any illicit charges have been made to your other accounts.
- Prior to opening a new account or making changes to any existing accounts in your name, have creditors contact you first by providing them with a victim’s statement.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
To order your report: 1-800-685-1111
To report fraud: 1-800-525-6285
Fraud Victim Assistance
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634-6790
To order your report: 1-800-888-4213
To report fraud: 1-800-680-7289
P.O. Box 9532
Allen, TX 75013
To order your report: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
To report fraud: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Step 2 – Contact your creditors
Contact the fraud department of each of your creditors:
- Call the fraud divisions for each of your creditors (revolving credit, non revolving credit, utilities, cable, etc.). Have your account information available and ready to go before you call.
- Even if no tampering has occurred, tell each creditor about your stolen identity. Close any accounts you believe have been breached.
- After the completion of your calls, dispute your fraud in writing. There’s a standardized form provided by the Federal Trade Commission titled “Identity Theft Affidavit” that can be used to inform your creditors of fraudulent new accounts that have been opened in your name. If your creditor won’t accept this form, ask them to send a copy of theirs to you for completion. Send in any supporting documentation that supports your claim.
- Document and file information on all telephone conversations and written correspondence together.
- Provided by the Federal Trade Commission, their brochure “Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft” includes sample dispute letters as well as additional data on solving credit problems.
Step 3 – Contact your bank
Make contact with your bank or financial institution
- Stop payment on any checks that may have been stolen or used by a fraud identity thief.
- If you’re unsure about any of your outstanding checks, put stop payments on them as well.
- Make contact with the major check verification businesses and ask they notify retailers, who use their databases, not to accept your checks:
- TeleCheck: 1-800-710-9898 or 927-0188
- Cetergy, Inc: 1-800-437-5120
- International Check Services: 1-800-631-9656
- Call SCAN at 1-800-262-7771 to learn if bad checks have been passed in your name
- Sometimes if your accounts have been compromised, it may be easier and make more sense to cancel your checking and savings accounts. Once closed, you can open new accounts with new account numbers.
Step 4 – File a police report
Inform local law enforcement about your identity theft event.
- File a report with your local police department or sheriff’s office. Provide as many records as possible, including copies of debt collection letters, credit reports, and your notarized ID Theft Affidavit when you file the report.
- Before they eliminate the debts incurred by the identity thief, some creditors may request a copy of the police report. So be sure to get a copy from your local law enforcement agency once it’s been completed.
What else can I do?
File a complaint with the FTC’s Identity Theft Clearinghouse.
Built as a nationwide databse for ID theft complaints, the Federal Trade Commission Clearinghouse is the federal government’s repository for ID theft complaints. This central database is called the Consumer Sentinel, which is logged on to by numerous local and state law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. You can either call their toll-free hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT or complete an online complaint form.
Report the identity theft to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. The requirements for reporting ID theft and procedures involved may be different than those we’ve outlined here but informing the DMV is an important step to take in clearing your name:
- A person who alleges that their identification or Driver’s License has been stolen, lost or otherwise misplaced must file a written complaint or notice with the DMV requesting a new driver license number (No oral or telephone requests are accepted).
- If the DMV receives such written correspondence, then the written request is forwarded to Driver Services, Driver Services License Division for review by the administrative staff.
- The Driver License Division will send a form response or form notice that states that the person must provide the following information for issuance of a new DL# (If not included in the initial written request):
- Police report (including – that the information was lost, stolen or otherwise misplaced).
- Documentation relating to fraudulent purchases, including credit card statements, letters to credit card companies or credit reporting agencies indicating unauthorized purchases.
- Court orders expunging traffic violations or judgments determined not to have been made by the person.
- Bank account statements, canceled checks, letters of notification to and from banks explaining their circumstances for NSF or stop payment notifications relating to fraud, etc.
- The written request for a new Driver’s License number and the response from the Drivers License Division responses are microfilmed and recorded on the individuals driving record.
- Upon receipt from the individual of the required documentation requested in the DMV response letter, documents are microfilmed and placed on the driver record. After careful review by Drivers License Management, a recommendation as to the issuance of a new Drivers License number is made. If a new driver’s license number is recommended, the paperwork is forwarded to the Director of Driver Services for that final approval.
- A letter from the Drivers License Division is sent to the individual either issuing a new Drivers License number (which the person can take to the license branch to obtain a new license) or a letter is sent to the individual explaining why a new Drivers License number is not being issued at this time. This letter will inform the individual the option for an administrative hearing. All requests for an administrative hearing must be in writing and directed to the Legal Department of the DMV.
- Issuance or denial is microfilmed and a comment is placed on the record of the individual.
- Recount any mail theft to your local U.S. Postal Inspection Service district office. They will look into if your mail has been stolen by an identity thief and whether or not it’s been used to open new credit accounts or commit fraud.
- Your local U.S. Department of State field office is the agency to report any Passport Fraud to or if you’ve lost or had your passport stolen.
- Safeguard your Social Security number. To confirm the correctness of earnings reported for your social security number, contact the Social Security Administration. To inspect for errors or fraud, order a copy of your Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement (PEBES) from the Social Security Administration. Call 1-800-772-1213 or visit www.ssa.gov.
15 Identity Theft Protection Tips
- Never recycle financial papers or mail that has any personally identifiable information on them. Instead shred them first, with a cross shredder, bundle to shredded pieces into a paper bag and then put them in your recycle bin. Better yet, if you own a business, hire a professional shredding company to do the dirty work for you.
- Protect your Scocial Security number. Never carry your Social Security card around in your wallet or purse. Never write it on a check. Only give your Social Security number out if you absolutely must or ask if you can use another form of personal identifier.
- Call 1-888-5OPTOUT or visit www.optoutprescreen.com and request credit card companies halt sending pre-approved credit card applications via U.S. mail to your home address. They are ticking identity theft time bombs.
- Contact your credit card companies and request they stop sending “convenience checks.” They’re ticking time bombs.
- Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), consumers are permitted one free credit report every year. Request yours as soon as possible and go through it meticulously.
- Prior to filling out an application for credit or making a big purchase on credit, order a credit report. It’s important to be aware of any surprises in your credit history first.
- Hassle companies that ask for any personal data at a checkout line, such as your phone number or zip code. The harder we make it on companies, the less they will be inclined to continue this practice.
- With access to high tech hardware and software by scammers, it’s near impossible to tell online what’s legitimate and what’s fake. Best practices indicate deleting any emails that request personally identifiable information. The worst thing you can do is respond to them.
- It’s not rude to hang up on telemarketers. Especially if they’re asking questions regarding personal information, like where you bank and what’s your birthday.
- Don’t give out personal information over the phone, through email, or over the internet unless you are 100% positive you know where you are and who you’re sending it to.
- Never click links found in unsolicited emails. If you feel a need to visit the site, type in the web address. Protect your computer by using firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virues software and keeping them up-to-date.
- Use safe passwords that aren’t obvious to ID thieves. Don’t use your birthday, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number as all or part of any password.
- Have the absolute minimal number of credit cards you need. Every month make time to thoroughly examine your credit card and other financial statements. The quicker an identity theft incident is discovered the better as the rights of consumers fade quickly over time.
- Keep your personal information and sensitive documents in a secure place in your home. Take extra care if you have roommates, baby sitters, cleaning staff or work is being done to your home.
- Unfortunately there’s very little one can do to prevent ID theft as most of the time it’s due to some company’s lack of security surrounding your personally identifiable information. The best you can do is be organized and be prepared. Archive and save all credit card statements and back account statements for at least one year. In the event your ID is stolen, you’ll need to prove your account activity and balances.