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Identity Theft

What It Is, How to Protect Yourself & What To Do If...

According to a recent document published by the U.S. General Accounting Office:

bulletThousands of people each year report that they are victims of identity theft
bulletMany identity theft-related crimes go unreported
bulletVictims have spent over 175 hours and over $10,000 per incident to resolve these problems

The consequences can be staggering. Victims of identity fraud have:

bulletDiscovered unauthorized debts and delinquent accounts, which can lead to calls from debt collectors
bulletLost their jobs
bulletFaced criminal investigation, arrest or conviction

Even more, victims may not even know their identity has been stolen until, after several months, a negative situation arises and they realize that there is a problem.

Identity theft involves stealing another's personal information, and using it fraudulently to establish credit, use existing credit cards, file fraudulent tax returns, access bank accounts, and commit many other crimes.

How are these crimes pulled off? Criminals devise new methods all the time - from searching in the trash to locate pre-approved credit card applications... to pilfering phone calling cards... to "shoulder surfing" for PIN numbers at ATMs. A new crime, known as "skimming", involves a cashier receiving your credit card for a purchase, then quickly skimming it through a portable device that picks up the information on the card for unauthorized use later.

Fortunately, new laws in some states make identity theft a felony that can be prosecuted in federal court.

How To Minimize Your Risk of Identity Theft

How do you protect yourself? Since criminals are slick and clever, it's difficult to stay on top of every scenario. But there are several things you can do to minimize your risk.

bulletCarry with you only the ID and cards you need at any given time
bulletSign all new credit cards immediately with permanent ink
bulletDo not make Internet purchases from sites that are unsecured (check for a padlock icon on the site to ensure its safety)
bulletAvoid writing a PIN number, Social Security number or passcode on any of your credit cards or on anything you are planning to discard
bulletTry to memorize your password(s) instead of recording them on paper or computer
bulletWhile making a purchase in person, keep your eye on the cashier - never look away while your card is being processed
bulletIf you have applied for a new credit card and it does not arrive within a reasonable time, contact the issuer
bulletBe sure someone you trust collects your mail in your absence; if you are leaving town for a week or more, ask the post office to hold your mail until your return
bulletSecure your Social Security card in a safe place at home; do not carry it in your wallet
bulletDon't give out personal or account information to anyone without verifying their identity; never give personal information to telephone or door-to-door solicitors
bulletCreate passwords or codes that are not obvious; avoid using your birth date, your mother's maiden name or your pet's name
bulletDestroy all carbons
bulletNever leave your receipts behind after making a purchase
bulletBe aware of "shoulder surfers!" Shield your numbers when using an ATM
bulletAvoid providing your social security number or other personal information to prospective employers until you have verified the legitimacy of the organization and their need to verify your background
bulletCheck your credit file periodically for accuracy by contacting one of the three major bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) By law you are entitle to (1) free copy each year.

What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen

Act fast to minimize the consequences. Notify all three credit reporting agencies and ask that your file be flagged with a fraud alert.

Stolen Credit Card

bulletContact your local police or sheriff's offices to report the theft
bulletNotify creditors immediately, and request that your accounts be closed
bulletAsk the card company to furnish copies of documents that show any fraudulent transactions
bulletRefuse to pay any bill or portion of any bill that is a result of identity theft
bulletReport the theft or fraud to Equifax and the other credit reporting agencies

Stolen Check

bulletReport the crime to your local police or sheriff's department
bulletNotify your financial institution to stop payment on any outstanding checks that you are unsure of and give them any missing check numbers.
bulletCancel all your accounts, both checking and savings, and set up new ones with new account numbers
bulletGive your bank a password for your account
bulletReport the problem to the check verification company used by the store where a fraudulent check has been written
bulletRefuse to cover any checks that were written or cashed fraudulently. (If you pay, you compromise your opportunity to prosecute.)
bulletReport the theft or fraud to Equifax and the other credit reporting agencies

Stolen ATM Card

bulletReport the crime IMMEDIATELY to your bank and to the local police or sheriff's department
bulletGet a new card and change your password
bulletAvoid using pets' names, your mother's maiden name, birth dates, Social Security numbers or other obvious information for your new password

Social Security Number

bulletContact the Social Security Administration immediately at www.ssa.gov or call (800) 772-1213
bulletOrder your Earnings & Benefits Statement from the Social Security Administration to verify its contents

Driver's License Number

bulletNotify the state office of the Department of Motor Vehicles and place a fraud alert on your license
bulletRequest a new Driver's License number
bulletAvoid using your Social Security Number as your Driver's License number

Stolen Address Information or Fraudulent Change of Your Address

bulletCall the U.S. Post Office at (800) 275-8777 for your local Postal Inspector's phone number
bulletNotify the Postal Inspector that the mail has been used to commit fraud
bulletIf you know where fraudulent credit cards or other material has been sent, ask that all mail sent to the fraudulent address be forwarded to your own address.

Phone Service

bulletNotify your long distance carrier about any calls that you or members of your household did not make. (Most phone companies have fraud hotlines for this purpose.)
bulletCancel your account and open a new one, using a secure password


bulletContact the passport office immediately.

Contact Information to Report Fraud

Government Agencies
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 877-438-4338
U. S. Postal Inspection Service 800-275-8777
Social Security Administration 800-772-1213
To Report Check Fraud
Check Rite 800-766-2748
Chex Systems 800-328-5121
NPC 800-526-5380
Tele-Check 800-366-2425
Credit Reporting Agencies' Fraud Departments
Equifax Consumer Fraud Division 888-766-0008
Experian's National Consumer Assistance 888-397-3742
TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Dept. 800-680-7289

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