Identity theft is a serious crime that exploded in the 1990’s and continues to grow. It occurs when someone obtains or attempts to obtain your personal identifying information (name, address, account numbers, social security number, etc.) for his own use. Identity theft protection is valuable because a thief may apply for new credit, loans or even a job using your personal information.
You may not realize you have been a victim of identity theft until it has already happened. For example, you answer the telephone and hear a collection agency demanding payment on an account that you never had or you read your credit card statement and notice there are charges for things you did not buy. What happened? You may have been a victim of identity theft.
Identity theft probably cannot be entirely prevented but you can take steps towards identity theft protection to minimize risk by managing your personal information with heightened awareness and security.
How To Prevent Identity Theft
Although not entirely preventable, precautions can be taken to minimize your risk of identity theft. Once discovered, it takes the average person about 175 hours and $1,300 to clear up their good name.
The following steps will help you to guard your personal information:
- Check all three of your credit reports at least once per year and scrutinize the information listed. Promptly dispute any inaccuracies, in writing, return receipt with the credit bureau and the company referencing the information.
- http://www.equifax.com or call 1-800-685-1111
- http://www.experian.com or call 1-888-397-3742
- http://www.transunion.com or call 1-800-888-4213
- Guard ALL of your personal information:
- Guard your Social Security number. Ask why it is needed and how it will be used before giving it. Do not print your Social Security number on your checks ever.
- Never give out personal information including account numbers over the phone, over the Internet, or through the mail unless you initiated the contact and know the company is trustworthy.
- Perform a wallet or purse inventory, removing anything you do not absolutely need for today. Do not carry extra credit cards, blank checks, Social Security card or passport except when needed. Shred old receipts before disposing of them.
- Practice ‘store or destroy’ with personal information in your home and office such as bank statements, credit card statements, receipts, pre-approved offers, insurance forms, etc. If you need the information, safely store it, if you don’t, promptly shred it. Do not throw away personal information in the trash without shredding it first (crosscut shredders are preferred over regular shredders).
- Remove your name from marketing lists. Start by opting-out with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) by calling this one automated phone number: 1-888-567-8688. Register with the national Do Not Call Registry to limit telemarketing calls at 1-888-382-1222 or www.donotcall.gov.
- Be careful with your mail. Take outgoing payments and personal information directly to the post office to be mailed. Remove your mail promptly, pay attention to billing cycles, and immediately review statements for accuracy.
- Keep a list or photocopy (front and back) of your driver’s license, credit and bank cards, along with account numbers, expiration dates, and customer service and fraud phone numbers, in the event these items are lost or stolen.
What To Do If You Are A Victim Of Identity Theft
If you are a victim of identity theft, or suspect that your information has been misused, you must take immediate action to limit damage, making sure you document everything. Exactly which steps you should take will depend on your circumstance and how your identity was misused, however the three basic steps listed below are appropriate in almost every case:
1. Contact the fraud department of each of the three major credit bureaus and tell them you’re an identity theft victim.
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285
- Experian 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
Request a ‘fraud alert’ be placed in your file and a ‘victim’s statement’ asking that you be called before opening or changing any accounts. This may pose a minor inconvenience, as you may not be able to get instant credit. Also, fraud alerts and victim statements are voluntary services and creditors do not have to consider them when granting credit.
At the same time request a copy of your report, it will be free since you have been a victim of suspected fraud. Immediately check all three for accuracy and re-check them in a few months. Promptly dispute in writing what is inaccurate. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes procedures for correcting mistakes. To protect your rights under the law, you must contact both the credit bureau and the information provider (company). It is best to send written correspondence, certified mail, and return receipt.
2. Contact the specific company (credit card company, bank, utility company) and ask for someone in the fraud/security department. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new accounts with new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and new passwords. Make sure you follow up in writing, certified mail, and return receipt. This is especially important for credit cards since this is the procedure spelled out in the law under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) for resolving errors on credit billing statements, including charges you did not make. Your letter must reach the creditor within 60 days after the first bill was mailed to you. For more information on the FCBA: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/index.html
- For New Unauthorized Accounts, the company may request you complete an affidavit. Ask if the company accepts the ID Theft Affidavit form provided by the FTC.
3. File a police report with your local police or in the place where the theft occurred. Obtain and keep a copy in case the bank, creditor or others need it for proof. Be persistent in obtaining this; it may be required to resolve your dispute. If you cannot get a copy of your report, at least get the report number.
- In addition, report it to the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, call toll free 1-877-IDTHEFT/1-877-438-4338 or visit online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. Counselors will take your information and advise you on how to deal with potential problems. Your information will become part of a database of consumer fraud information that is shared with other law enforcement agencies.
Additional Steps Depending On Circumstances
Checks: Ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business. In addition to notifying the bank, contact the following major check verification companies to request that they notify retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks. To find out if bad checks are being passed in your name, call: SCAN at 1-800-262-7771
Telecheck: 1-800-710-9898 or 927-0188
Certegy, Inc. (previously Equifax Check Systems): 1-800-437-5120
International Check Services: 1-800-631-9656
Social Security Numbers: Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline: 1-800-269-0271. Order a copy of your earnings report at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of your earnings.
It is important as you proceed through these steps that you follow up in writing with all contacts. Mail all your correspondence as certified mail with return receipt. Make sure you start a file and keep copies of all correspondence you mail. Do not send originals of supporting documentation.
Please refer to the following websites for additional resources and information:
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