Published: October 26, 2006
ID Theft & Account Fraud (2009)
Prevention and Clean Up
An identity thief is an imposter who assumes another person’s identity in order to profit illegally or because the thief wants to hide behind a new identity. Identity theft—or ID theft—occurs when the imposter uses your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. This publication can help you take steps to prevent ID theft, or if you are a victim, to clear up the problems created by ID theft and to lessen its impact on your life.
An identity thief is an imposter who assumes another person’s identity to profit illegally or because the thief wants to hide behind a new identity. Identity theft—or ID theft—occurs when the imposter uses your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes.
Account fraud occurs when someone else obtains your credit card number or bank account information and makes unauthorized charges or withdrawals.
Among the pieces of personal information that can be used to commit ID theft and fraud are your name, Social Security number (SSN), birth date, mother’s maiden name, credit report, driver’s license and credit card and bank account numbers.
It pays to prevent ID theft, because victims spend time and significant amounts of money to clean up their credit records. Victims may lose job and rental opportunities, be rejected for housing, car and education loans and even be arrested for another person’s outstanding warrants or suspected crimes.
If you’re already a victim, you need to take timely action to clear up the problems created by ID theft and account fraud and to lessen its impact on your life. (See “ID Theft Clean-up.”)
Prevent ID Theft and Account Fraud
- Check your credit reports regularly. You can get free copies every 12 months at the Annual Credit Report website (www.annualcreditreport.com) or by calling 877-322-8228.
- Before you discard documents and mail that contain your SSN, account numbers and other personal information, shred them or tear them into tiny bits.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Memorize your SSN.
- Watch your wallet or purse at all times. At work, keep your purse in a locked drawer or cabinet. Don’t hang your purse on your chair in restaurants.
- If your SSN is on your driver’s license, ask to have it removed—you have that right under federal law.
- Verify that your employer keeps your SSN and other personal information under lock and key.
- Lower your voice when providing SSN and other sensitive information in banks or doctors’ offices.
- Check financial statements and bills as soon as they arrive. Report any unauthorized transactions to the companies immediately.
- Lock your mailbox. Deposit outgoing mail containing checks in a postal box—don’t leave it sitting in your unlocked mailbox or apartment lobby.
- At home, hide sensitive information like bank and credit card statements, insurance records, etc., where they can’t be seen by visitors or workers.
- At teller machines (ATMs), shield the PIN keypad while entering credit and debit card passwords.
- Try to keep an eye on your credit card when you give it to a merchant or waiter.
- When you order new checks, look out for them. Make sure they are delivered to a locked mailbox.
Phone and Internet
- Never respond to requests by phone or e-mail for personal information, no matter how urgent the request seems. Find the number of the company online or in the phone directory and call to ask if the request is legitimate.
- Don’t provide sensitive personal information when talking on a cell phone.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you’ve initiated the call or you are absolutely sure you know the company or person you’re dealing with.
- Read your bank’s privacy notice so that you understand how it uses your information for marketing.
- If you don’t want to get preapproved credit offers, call 888-5OPT-OUT (567-8688) to stop them.
- Be careful about giving away information about yourself. Question why a business needs your SSN, mother’s maiden name or other information.
Are You Already a Victim?
ID theft has been called a “shadow crime” because victims can be unaware that their identities have been stolen. These steps may help you identify ID fraud:
- Check your credit report. You can get free annual copies of your credit reports from the three large national credit reporting bureaus. Go to the Annual Credit Report site (www.annualcreditreport.com) to get your free reports. Review your reports for accounts you don’t recognize or information from companies you don’t do business with.
- Monitor your mail for missed bills, credit card statements and other mail that you expected. A missing bill might mean that a crook has taken over your account and changed your billing address.
- Investigate mysterious purchases, charges, bills or collection calls immediately. If you receive a credit card you didn’t apply for, find a strange charge on your credit card or get calls or letters from debt collectors about bills you don’t recognize, call the companies immediately to address the problem.
- Question credit offers. If you know you have good credit but your application for a new credit card is denied, it could signal ID theft. When you are denied credit, you can get a free copy of your credit report from the credit bureau used by the lender.
ID Theft Clean-up
If you discover that you are a victim of ID theft, take these steps to obtain proof of the crime and limit the damage:
Document the Crime. File a police report with your local police department.
- Get a copy of the police report and make a note of the incident number assigned to your complaint.
- Also contact appropriate state and federal law enforcement agencies (sheriff, state troopers, state attorney general, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the FTC or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service).
- Download a free ID Theft Affidavit from the FTC (www.ftc.gov/idtheft) and fill it out.
- Get proof of fraudulent accounts. (See “Monitor Accounts.”)
Use Fraud Alerts. Put a fraud alert on your credit report to help stop ID thieves from opening accounts.
- Choose an initial alert, which stays on your credit report for at least 90 days, or an extended alert effective for seven years. With fraud alerts, your identity must be verified before new credit can be issued, so allow for extra time to open new credit.
- To put an alert on your credit reports, contact any one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax: 800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; Experian: 888-397-3742; www.experian.com, or TransUnion: 800-680-7289; www.transunion.com
- Always ask for the free credit reports you are entitled to when placing fraud alerts. (Initial alerts give you one additional free credit report; extended alerts, two free credit reports within 12 months.)
- Review your reports closely for listings by companies you don’t do business with, accounts you didn’t open and debts you don’t recognize. Make sure your personal information is correct.
- File a dispute with the credit bureaus if you find any questionable or inaccurate information.
Monitor Accounts. Dispute fraudulent accounts and lock out thieves so they don’t do more damage:
- Close accounts opened without your knowledge as well as existing accounts on which fraud has occurred. Ask for the security or fraud department of the company. Follow up with a written request.
- Create new personal identification numbers (PINs) and passwords for your accounts—old and new. Avoid easy-to-guess PINs such as your birth date, address or phone number.
- If the identity thief has used any existing accounts, ask the responsible companies how to dispute fraud.
- Ask for a letter stating that disputed accounts have been closed and fraudulent accounts erased.
Review your credit reports
- Go to the Annual Credit Report web site (www.annualcreditreport.com) to get your free credit reports.
- Review your reports for listings by companies you don’t do business with, accounts you didn’t open and debts you don’t recognize.
- Make sure your personal information is correct.
- Dispute all questionable or inaccurate information.
Social Security numbers
- Victims of ID theft often ask if they can get a new Social Security number. Usually, this is not possible.
- A new Social Security number might not give you a fresh start because the credit reporting bureaus may combine records under your old Social Security number with those under your new number.
- With a new Social Security number you might find it difficult to get new credit because you have no credit history.
- Visit the Social Security Administration web site (www.ssa.gov) for more information.
Password all accounts
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts.
- Don’t use easy-to-guess names or numbers.
- If companies you do business with want your mother’s maiden name, ask to use a different password.
- Never respond to e-mails asking for personal information. Legitimate companies don’t do this.
- If you are interested in why you got the e-mail, independently look up the number of the company and call to ask if the communication is legitimate.
- Double check all web addresses (URLs) when you visit web sites. Bookmark favorite sites so you won’t go to a spoof site designed to trick you.
- Make sure the site is secure by verifying the padlock security symbol in your browser’s window.
Proof of the crime
- By law, companies must give you free copies of fraudulent applications and other business transaction records relating to your identity theft. You may be asked for proof of identity, a police report and an affidavit before the company complies.
- Copies of the applications and transaction records might help you prove they were forged.
Be careful and stay informed
- Don’t give out personal information unless you are sure you are dealing with reputable companies.
- Don’t respond to e-mails seeking personal information such as account numbers or passwords, or that ask you to “click” a link to go to the site.
- When you call businesses, use the phone number on your account statement or in the phone book.
- Stay informed—check the web sites of consumer organizations and businesses for “scam alerts.”
‘Freezing’ your credit
- You have the option to freeze your credit report to prevent new credit from being issued in your name.
- Fees, required proof and procedures vary from state to state and among the three credit reporting agencies.
- In most (but not all) states, there is no charge for identity theft victims to place, lift or remove a freeze. Fees vary for non-victims.
- To freeze your credit report, contact the three credit reporting agencies. (For contact information, see ID Theft Clean-up.)
Links from Article
- Annual Credit Report website
- free ID Theft Affidavit from the FTC website
- Equifax website
- Experian website
- TransUnion website
- Social Security Administration web site
For More Information
FTC’s ID Theft Clearinghouse. The FTC provides educational materials and complaint forms at its ID Theft web site (www.ftc.gov/idtheft) or by phone through its Identity Theft Hotline at 877-438-4338.
Free credit reports. You can get a free copy of your credit reports every 12 months at the Annual Credit Report web site (www.annualcreditreport.com) or by calling 877-322-8228.
ID Theft & Account Fraud (2009)
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Moneywise, Moneywi$e, Steal Identity, Fraudulent Withdrawal, Id Theft
This brochure was created by Consumer Action in partnership with Capital One Services, Inc.
© 2006 Consumer Action. Rights Reserved.