Identity Theft
In the course of a busy day, you may write a check at the grocery store, charge tickets to a ball game, rent a car, mail your tax returns, call home on your cell phone, order new checks or apply for a credit card. Chances are you don’t give these everyday transactions a second though. But someone else may. While you probably can’t prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft.

  • Before you reveal any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
  • Guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. If you are planning a trip and can not pick up your mail, call your local Post Office and request a vacation hold.
  • Put passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
  • Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry to what you’ll actually need.
  • Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know who you are dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother’s maiden name, financial account numbers and other identifying information. Legitimate organizations with whom you do business have the information they need and will not ask you for it.
  • Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Shred discarded charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards credit offers you get in the mail. This will help thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash.
  • Be cautions about where you leave personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.
  • Find out who has access to your personal information at work and verify that the records are kept in a secure location.
  • Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.
  • Don’t carry your SSN card. Leave it in a secure place.
  • Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. Make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities you’ve authorized. Visit the credit reporting agencies at: Equifax, Experian, Trans Union.

How Identity Theft Occurs

  • Identity thieves get your personal information:
  • They steal wallets and purses containing your identification, credit and bank cards.
  • They steal your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards and tax information.
  • They complete a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location.
  • They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data in a practice known as “dumpster diving”.
  • They fraudulently obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legitimate need for – and a legal right to – the information.
  • They get your business or personnel records at work.
  • They find personal information in your home.
  • They use personal information you share on the Internet.
  • They buy your personal information from “inside” sources.

If You are a Victim

Sometimes identity theft can strike even if you’ve been very careful about protecting your personal information. Three basic actions are appropriate in almost every case of identity theft:

  • Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus.
    Tell them you are an identity theft victim. Request that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file, as well as a victim’s statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing any existing accounts.
  • Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
    Creditors include credit card companies, phone companies and other utilities, and banks and other lenders. Ask to speak to someone in the security or fraud department. Follow up with a letter. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs).
  • File a police report with your local police department.
    Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card company or others need proof of the crime.