What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when someone obtains, and illegally uses, your identifying information; such as name, address, date of birth, social security number or mother's maiden name. An impostor can open new credit cards accounts, drain your bank accounts, purchase automobiles, apply for loans, open utility services, etc., etc.

No matter how cautious you are, you cannot guarantee that a criminal will not obtain your information.

Identity thieves look for pieces of your personal information. Here are just a few ways in which thieves might obtain your identity:

  • Searching your trash. This is called "Dumpster Diving" – a term to describe people who rummage through your trash to find unshredded information like credit card offers, old bills, and bank statements.
  • Intercepting your mail. Thieves can complete "change of address" forms and receive mail that's intended for you.
  • Stealing your wallet or purse. Your wallet or purse can contain a wealth of information about you, including your account numbers, address, and date of birth.
  • Accessing your employer's files. Your place of work stores a lot of your personal and business information, and can be a target for identity thieves. Talk to your company's security officer to learn how your information is protected.
  • Getting information directly from you. Sometimes, thieves pose as telemarketers, or someone who might have a legitimate reason to ask for your personal information (like your bank, employer, or landlord). They even use fake emails and Web sites to try and obtain information from you.

Identity theft is dangerous because it can remain hidden for a relatively long time before it's identified. Here are some signs to help you identity if you've been a target of identity theft:

  • Missing mail. A telling sign of identity theft is if you are missing mail or see a significant drop in amount of mail you receive.
  • Suspicious transactions. Monitor your accounts, statements, and credit reports and look for unusual transactions.
  • Unexpected declines. Be alert to any unexpected declines for a loan or a mortgage, despite your good credit.
  • Strange calls. Calls from a collection agency you don't recognize are another sign that someone has stolen your identity.
  • New credit cards. A credit card in the mail that you haven't applied for could be a sign that someone has attempted to steal your identity.

The important thing to remember is to use caution when disclosing personal and financial information. There are a number of ways you can help protect yourself from identity theft:

 Personal Information:

  • Sign the back of your credit and debit cards. This minimizes the possibility of someone else using your card.
  • Keep your credit card receipts. Don't throw your receipts away. They can help you double-check your bank and card statements, and identify any suspicious activity.
  • Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately. If you lose your credit or check cards, or if they are stolen, it's important that you contact your bank immediately.
  • Cancel and destroy all unused cards. Call the banks to cancel the cards and destroy the cards before throwing them out. When you destroy the cards, make sure the numbers are no longer recognizable.
  • Never carry your Social Security card, Social Security number, birth certificate or passport, unless necessary.
  • Leave out personal information on your checks. Don't include driver's license, telephone, or Social Security numbers on your checks. By omitting this information, you keep confidential information away from prying eyes.
  • Promptly collect incoming mail. Your incoming mail has clues to your personal information. Make sure you collect it promptly.
  • Shred your junk mail. Make sure you shred all your junk mail before you throw it away – especially credit card offers which could contain confidential information.
  • Don't drop your outgoing mail in your mailbox. It is safer to drop your outgoing mail in official Postal Service collection boxes than your mailbox – especially if your mailbox is not locked.

 Financial Information: 

  • Get a copy of your credit report every year.
  • Keep your financial records out of sight. Burglars are just as interested in credit cards, bank accounts and investment statements as they are in your TV, jewelry and other valuables.
  • Check monthly credit card statements for charges you did no make. If monthly statements do not arrive in the mail, call the lender immediately.
  • Keep a list, in a safe place, of all credit cards and bank accounts, including the account numbers, phone numbers and expiration dates. Check if your online purchase is processed on a secure server.
  • Shred financial or confidential information such as credit card pre-approvals, credit card receipts, etc.
  • Carry only the credit cards you plan to use.
  • Do not use your mother's maiden name as a password for accounts. Make up one.

For more information on how to protect yourself from identity theft and the steps you can take to safeguard your computers and personal information, review the online education tool on the FDIC website.  www.fdic.gov/     

What to do if you have been a victim.
Despite your best efforts to protect yourself, you have become a victim. Now what? The following steps should be taken immediately and at the same time to best insure your protection.

Record Keeping 
In the process of resolving the theft of your identity, be sure to keep records of all correspondence with the creditors and government agencies you contact. Include the date and name of contact. Follow up all telephone contacts with a letter and keep a copy.

Notify all creditors and financial institutions, in writing and by phone, that your name and accounts have been used without your permission. If an existing account has been stolen, ask the creditor or the bank to issue you new cards, checks and account numbers. Carefully monitor the accounts activity on your statements.  Report fraudulent activity to the issuing company immediately. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) is a federal law that limits a consumer's responsibility for fraudulent charges to $50.

Local Law Enforcement
Immediately report the crime to local police. Provide them with as much documentation as possible. Make sure that the accounts are listed on the police report. Also, get a copy of the police report. Credit card companies, banks and credit reporting agencies may require you to show a police report to support your claim that a crime was committed.

Federal Law Enforcement 
Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC collects complaints about identity theft from consumers and stores them in a secure online database called the Consumer Sentinel that is available to law enforcement agencies worldwide. The FTC provides information on ways to resolve problems resulting from identity theft and refers individuals to various private and government agencies for further action.

Federal Trade Commission Consumer
Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20580

The Credit Reporting Agencies

Contact the fraud units of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report to help prevent new fraudulent accounts from being opened. Keep track of when it expires so you can ask for another one, if necessary. However, not all creditors check your credit report before issuing a new account.

As an ID fraud victim, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report. Also, ask the agencies for a copy of your credit report every three months once you have become a victim. This can help determine how many and which accounts listed are fraudulent. You can also identify the existing accounts that have been stolen. 

Equifax 1-800-525-6285
Experian 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union 1-800-680-7289

Utility Companies

Ask utility companies (local and long distance telephone service providers, gas, electric and water companies) to watch out for anyone ordering services in your name. If someone has ordered services in your name, cancel those accounts. If you are having trouble with falsified accounts, contact your state Public Utility Commission.

Other Resources

United States Postal Inspection Services (USPIS)

The USPIS is a federal law enforcement agency that investigates cases of identity theft. The agency has primary jurisdiction in matters involving the integrity of the U.S. Mail.

U.S. Postal Inspection Service
475 L'Enfant Plaza
Washington, DC 20260
United States Secret Services

The USSS is a federal agency that investigates financial crimes. Generally, the USSS will intervene only when the dollar amount of the crime is high. However, they should still be notified in case it is part of a larger fraud ring.

U.S. Secret Service
Contact your local field office.

Social Security Administrations (SSA)

If you detect fraudulent use of your social security number, report it to the SSA. The SSA does not generally take action unless there is a high dollar amount, workplace impersonation or crimes committed in your name. They will only change your SSN if you fit their fraud victim criteria.

Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235
1-800-269-0271 (fraud hotline)

Additional steps to take:

If your bank accounts have been tampered with, close those accounts destroy any checks and cut up any ATM cards. Ask for password protection when opening new accounts.

If your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment on all checks. Open a new account and reissue checks to legitimate creditors. Also, ask your bank to notify its check verification company to stop giving approval for any of the stolen checks.

If you believe your investments or brokerage accounts have been tampered with, report it to your account manager and the Securities and Exchange Commission at 1-800-SEC-0330.

Even if you think a problem is resolved, check your credit report every six months for several years after your identity was stolen. 

If you suspect your name and SSN are being used by an identity thief to get a driver's license or non-driver's ID card in your name, contact your Department of Motor Vehicles.

Write to the Direct Marketing Association to have your name taken off direct mail list. This will stop the dangerous flow of preapproved credit card offers to your address. This is where to write:

Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Service
P O Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

Call the credit reporting industry at 888-567-8688 as an extra measure to stop credit card and insurance solicitations from coming to your home.

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