Identity Theft Prevention
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, makes it a federal crime when someone “…knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
Under the Act, a name or social security number is considered a “means of identification,” so is a credit card number, cellular telephone electronic serial number (ESN), or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual.
Take the necessary steps to protect yourself by using the below information as a quick “how to” guide of how to identify, report, and prevent identity theft.
Adopt a “need to know” approach about giving your personal information to others.
- Before you reveal any information, ask how it will be used, whether it will be shared with others, and ask if you have a choice about the use or confidentiality of your information.
- Never give out credit card numbers or personal information on the phone, through mail, or even the internet unless you have initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with.
- Pay attention to billing cycles. Follow-up with creditors if bills don’t arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address. Report discrepancies immediately.
- Only carry ID and credit cards or bank cards that you will be using. Keep items with personal information in a safe place.
- Be cautious of roommates, employees, and service technicians.
- Put passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Use a combination of numbers and letters instead of information that could be easily discovered by thieves. Never use: your mother’s maiden name, your middle name, your children’s names, or nickname, your birthdate, your children’s birth dates, or an anniversary, the last four digits of your SSN or phone or house number, a series of consecutive numbers, your pet’s name.
- Shred any of the following items before discarding: Charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards, credit offers you get in the mail
Install a locked mailbox.
Never leave bill payments in the mailbox for pick up. Mail bills and sensitive items at the post office instead.
Never write account numbers on a postcard or the outside of an envelope.
Promptly remove incoming mail from your mailbox.
Request a vacation hold from the U.S. Postal Service when planning to be away – (holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/ or 800-275-8777).
Install security software (firewall protection) on your computer.
Never respond to “SPAM” –unsolicited e-mail offers that promise some benefit after you complete a questionnaire, etc.
Report suspicious e-mails and internet scams to local law enforcement.
Your employer and financial institution need your social security number (SSN) for wage and tax reporting. Other private businesses may ask you for your SSN to do a credit check for a home or a car loan. Sometimes, however, others simply want your SSN for general record keeping which you have the right to refuse. Ask the following questions to help decide whether or not to provide your SSN:
Why do you need my SSN? How will it be used?
What law requires me to give you my SSN? What will happen if I don’t provide it? Keep in mind that businesses may turn you down for a service or benefit if you don’t provide your SSN.
Only give your SSN when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of ID when possible.
Never carry your Social Security card with you. Store it in a secure place.
Order a copy of your “Earnings & Benefits” statement to see if anyone has used your SSN to report income – 800-772-1213.
If your SSN has been used improperly, promptly contact the Social Security Administration: 800-269-0271
Keep a record of your account numbers, expiration dates, phone numbers, and addresses of each company in a safe place.
Never lend your card(s) to anyone.
Do not leave your credit cards lying around.
Watch your credit cards during transactions. Get it back as quickly as possible.
Void incorrect receipts.
Never sign a blank receipt. When you a sign a receipt, draw a line through any blank spaces above the total
Compare receipts with billing statements. Open bills promptly.
Reconcile accounts monthly. Report questionable charges promptly to the card issuer in writing.
Notify card companies in advance of a change of address.
Cancel unused credit card accounts.
Contact creditors about accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently including: credit card companies, phone companies, utility companies, banks and other lenders.
If you are a victim of identity theft, alert telephone, electrical, gas, and water utilities that someone may try to set up an account using your information.
If You Are A Victim:
1. Call each credit company. Ask to speak with a security or fraud representative.
2. Follow up with a letter.
3. Complete a “Fraud Affidavit” form.
4. Close out all or the accounts right away. Have it processed as “account closed at consumer’s request” to keep your previous good credit rating.
5. Use new PINs and passwords for new accounts
6. Monitor mail and bills for evidence.
To help prevent identity theft:
Sign your credit or bank cards when they arrive and carry them separately from your wallet.
Never have your social security number (SSN) printed on your checks.
Do not let merchants write your SSN on your checks.
Pick up new checks at the bank instead of having them mailed.
Store cancelled checks in a safe place.
If You Are A Victim:
1. Cancel the account
2. Set up new accounts. Use new passwords.
3. Stop payment on unauthorized checks.
4. Contact check verification companies that handle your checks: CheckRite: 800-766-2748, Chexsystems: 800-428-9623, CrossCheck: 800-843-0760, Equifax: 800-437-5120, Intl. Check Services: 800-526-5380, SCAN: 800-262-7771, TeleCheck: 800-710-9898
Shield your hand when using an ATM.
Memorize your Personal Identification Number (PIN). Never carry your PIN in your wallet or purse. Never write it on your ATM card or on the outside of a deposit slip or envelope.
Always take ATM receipts with you.
Monitor statements. Reconcile ATM receipts with bank statements as soon as possible.
If You Are A Victim:
1. If your ATM card has been misused, report it immediately. If it isn’t reported within two business days after discovery, you could lose up to $500 in unauthorized withdrawals.
2. You risk unlimited loss if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer or withdrawal within 60 days after your bank statement is mailed to you. You could lose all the money in your bank account and the unused portion of your line of credit established for overdrafts.
3. Follow up all calls with a letter.
4. Order a new card with a new account.
5. Set up a new password or PIN.
The personal information used to obtain a driver’s license is on file at your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Many DMVs distribute your information for law enforcement, driver safety, or insurance underwriting purposes, and direct marketing. Contact your state’s DMV to find out your options.
If You Are A Victim: • Contact your state’s DMV to see if another license has been issued in your name. • Inform them that your information has been used fraudulently. • Put a fraud alert in your DMV file. • Follow up every few months.
If you are a victim, contact the fraud department of EACH of the three major credit bureaus:EQUIFAX: To report fraud: 1-800-525-6285 and write Equifax. To order your credit report: 1-800-685-1111 or write Equifax- equifax.com
. P.O. Box 740241 Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
EXPERIAN: To report fraud: 1-800-EXPERIAN and write Experian. To order your credit report: 1-888-EXPERIAN or write Experian- experian.com, P.O. Box 949 Allen, TX 75013-0949
TRANS UNION: To report fraud: 1-800-680-7289 and write Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, Ca 92834. To order your credit report: 1-800-916-8800 or write Trans Union – tuc.com, P.O. Box 1000 Chester, PA 19022
Steps to Take If You Are a Victim:
1. Tell each credit agency you are a victim of identity theft.
2. Ask them to place a “Fraud Alert” in your file. (Find out how long the alert will be in effect and if it can be extended if necessary.)
3. Have them put a “Victim Statement” in your file asking creditors to call you before opening new accounts or changing existing accounts.
4. Order a copy of your credit report. (This is free if you are a victim and request it in writing, otherwise, they can charge you for each copy.)
5. Review the reports carefully for additional fraudulent accounts or activity.
6. Have the credit bureaus contact anyone who has requested your credit report in the last six months (two years for employers) and notify them of your situation.
7. In three months, order new copies to verify corrections, changes, and to make sure the fraudulent activity has stopped.
DO: Let all parties know that you (as well as creditors and financial institutions) are the victim(s). Indicate that you are willing to cooperate and have contacted all of the necessary agencies. • Keep an extensive log of who you reported the crime to, what their title was, their direct phone line or extension, and the course of action. • Ask for written confirmation of discussions. • Send all correspondence “return receipt requested” U.S. mail to create a paper trail. • Keep track of all expenses accrued while trying to correct your record, including phone calls, postage, mileage, time away from work, legal fees, Notary fees, court fees, assistance fees (including babysitters, accountants, attorney fees), and medical fees. • Attend all court hearings. Take extensive notes of the participants, content, and outcome.
DO NOT: Pay any bill (or portion) from fraudulent activity. • Cover any checks with your own money that you did not write or that were cashed fraudulently. • File for bankruptcy • Allow yourself to be coerced by any credit company, financial institution, or collection agency into believing that you will be held responsible. If you have been a victim, you may want to contact the passport office to alert them. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft victims spend about $1,000 and 180 hours to regain their credit rating.
File a report with your police department and the location where the identity theft took place.
Give law enforcement as much evidence as possible.
Provide a list of the fraudulent accounts. Make sure they are included in the report.
Get a copy (or summary) of the police report in case the bank, credit card companies, or others need proof of crime. Even if the identity thief is not caught, having a copy of the police report can help you when dealing with creditors. If you are not allowed a copy of your report, get a letter stating so.
Keep track of your case number(s) which will change as your case moves through the judicial system. Note which numbers go with each jurisdiction.
Provide creditors of fraudulent accounts a copy or the report.
Be persistent. It is a violation of Federal and many state laws to assume someone’s identity for fraudulent purposes. Some departments may not typically file reports on this type of crime.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They do not handle criminal cases, but can provide information and referrals to help resolve problems resulting from this type of crime.