Identity Theft

What is identity theft?

There is a new face for fraud in the information age and it’s called identity theft. Identity theft is when someone steals your identity to obtain credit, loans and mortgages, establish utility accounts, and so on. The impostor uses these accounts to defraud you out of thousands upon thousands of dollars. 

Here are some ways that identity thieves work:

They open new credit card accounts, using your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When they use the credit card and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. 

  They call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, change the mailing address on your credit card account. Then, your imposter runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, you may not immediately realize there's a problem. 
 

They establish cellular phone service in your name.

 

They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account. 

 

Thieves commonly look for social security numbers, driver license numbers, and mother’s maiden names. While there are many ways these thieves can obtain this information, the following is a listing of the most common.

 

Stealing a victim’s purse, wallet, or mail to obtain personal information.

 

"Dumpster diving” is the practice of digging through someone’s garbage to find discarded personal information such as credit card bills or offers for new credit cards.

 

Dishonest employees tap into customer and employee files to steal social security numbers along with other information.

 

Retail employees who double swipe a consumer’s credit card to use the second magnetic swipe to create a new purchase.

 

“Shoulder surfing” at an ATM to get PIN codes.

 

Using phony Internet sites to entice consumers to provide them with their personal information.

What is being done to combat this epidemic? Recently the House of Representatives passed a bill, 84-0, that would require anyone found guilty of identity theft to face up to 5 years in prison as well as fines which could total up to $100,000 depending on the severity of the theft. While this legislation is currently pending, many believe that the bill will pass and become law.

 
How do you prevent identity theft?

Perhaps the most important step is to get a copy of your credit report each year and review it for any discrepancies. (Some credit reporting agencies will give you a FREE copy once a year, but if you check your report more than this, they may charge you.) Other steps you can take include:

Carefully select to whom you supply personal information. 

 

Buy a shredder and destroy all material that has your personal information on it before you throw it out. 

 

Visit the US Government Identity Theft website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/

 

While you may try your best to counter this growing crime, the thieves may be one step ahead of you. If you fall victim to identity theft, you may want to take the following actions:

 

Contact the major credit bureaus and ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit reports and inform them that you wish to be called by creditors before any new accounts are established.

 

File a police report. If they are reluctant to take a report, (sometimes police consider the creditors as the victims because they are losing the funds charged), insist that they take one. If they still refuse, ask to speak to the head of the fraud unit, and if all else fails, write a letter to the Chief of Police.

 

Change your remaining account passwords.

 

In extreme cases, you may wish to get a new social security number. 

 

If you have any questions about Identity Theft, or think you may have been a victim, contact your local law enforcement agency immediately. The longer you wait could make the damage that much worse.