Imagine a person waking up one morning to discover that someone had stolen his or her identity. Overnight, the identity thief could have already opened new charge accounts, ordered checks with a new address, or applied for a job using the stolen Social Security number.
Identity Thieves Get Personal Information by...
- stealing wallets/purses containing identification, credit & bank cards.
- stealing mail, including credit card and bank statementA printed or online statement, usually available as a pdf, that provides the depositor with a record of deposits, checks, ATM transactions, and electronic fund transfers made to an account over a certain period of time. s, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards, and tax information.
- requesting a “change of address” to divert mail to another location.
- rummaging through trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data.
- fraudulently obtaining credit reports by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legitimate need for and a legal right to your information.
- accessing business or personal records at work.
- finding personal information in homes.
- using the Internet to obtain personal information, such as Social Security Numbers, credit card data, and passwords, from unsuspecting users. Social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook can be a source of information for identity thieves.
- buying personal information from “inside” sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information that appears on an application for credit.
Identity Thieves Use Personal Information to...
- call the credit cardA plastic card with a magnetic stripe on one side that can be used to purchase goods and services. The issuing company records the purchases, bills the purchaser, receives payment, and subsequently settles the purchaser’s debts with the providers of goods and services. Some credit cards offer cash advances to its holders. issuer and, pretending to be the victim, ask to change mailing address on the credit card account. The imposter then makes charges on the account. Because bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before the person whose identity has been stolen realizes there is a problem.
- get a new credit card using the stolen identity and make charges on the account. The victim is left with the outstanding balance and the delinquent account will be reported on their credit reportInformation gathered from businesses and companies with which a person has a financial/business relationship (present or past). These could include department stores, banks, credit card issuers, and mortgage companies. Information on tax liens, bankruptcies, and lawsuits comes from court records. One free annual report can be ordered once every 12 months from each of the three major consumer-reporting agencies. .
- use stolen information to order items online.
- establish phone or wireless service with that name.
- open a bank account and write bad checks on the account.
- file for bankruptcy under the stolen name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred under that name or to avoid eviction.
- counterfeit checks or debit cards and drain the person’s bank account.
- buy cars by taking out auto loans using the stolen name.
Ways to Protect Your Identity
- Leave your Social Security card (and number) in a secure place.
- Protect your identity when using social networking sites by keeping the strictest privacy settings.
- Be careful to whom you give personal information by phone, mail, in-person, or Internet. Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at school (or work).
- Never lend your credit/debit cards to anyone.
- Carry only the cards (debit and credit) that you plan to use. Report any lost cards immediately.
- Keep credit card account numbers in a safe place as well as phone numbers to call in the event of a loss.
- Always deposit mail in U.S. Post Office collection boxes.
- Watch what you throw in the trash or in recycling bins. Tear or shred papers with identifying information such as bank statements, bills, or offers for new credit cards.
- Create passwords or PINs that are hard to guess and change them periodically. Avoid using digits of your Social Security number, your mother’s maiden name, your date of birth, or any part of your name.
- Be alert to possible phishingAn attempt to fraudulently acquire sensitive information via electronic communication, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy business. PayPal, eBay, and online banks are common targets. The term is a variant of “fishing” and refers to baits used in the hope of a “catch” of financial information. and pharmingSimilar to phishing, but involves Trojan programs, worms, or other sophisticated virus technologies that attack the Internet browser address bar. When users type in a valid URL they are redirected to a fraudulent website. scams. Never answer unsolicited e-mails.
- Keep eyes on credit and debit cardA card used for purchases that is issued by the consumer’s bank. Funds are deducted from the consumer’s checking account and transferred electronically to the merchant’s bank account when a purchase is made. s during transactions.
If you suspect someone close to you may be using your identity to obtain credit, and accumulate debts in your name, this is considered economic abuse. If and when it is safe, seek help from a counselor, family member, or community leader. A non-profit financial counselor can also help you to identify if this is happening. Practice safe internet use, do not allow cookies and turn off your browsing history.
If your information has been compromised, but not yet misused, the best way to detect identity theft is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month and check your credit report on a regular basis. In addition, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit reports. Also, consider filing a complaint with the FTC.
What to do if you become a victim
If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible and keep a record with the details of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.
- Contact the fraud department of one of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) and place a fraud alert on your credit report. The fraud alert means that any company checking your credit knows that your personal information has been stolen.
- Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission using the online complaint form; or call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
- File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.