Identity theft is the fastest growing financial crime in America. One in six Americans-12 million a year (9 Things)-- have spent an average of two years clearing their names. Typically they lost $800. Texas is rated fifth highest in ID theft in the nation (Stop Thieves: 12-13).
"Identity Theft is a crime in which an impostor obtains key pieces of personal identifying information (PII) such as Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers and uses them for their own personal gain. This is called ID Theft. It can start with lost or stolen wallets, pilfered mail, a data breach, computer virus, phishing, a scam, or paper documents thrown out by you or a business (dumpster diving). This crime varies widely, and can include check fraud, credit card fraud, financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, governmental identity theft, and identity fraud" (Identity Theft Resource Center).
What You Can Do:
Check financial statements promptly. Check your bank statement, brokerage and credit card statements for accuracy. Report problems immediately.
Watch your credit. Order credit reports annually from the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax (1-888-766-0008), www.equifax.com; TransUnion (1-800-680-7289), www.transunion.com; and Experian (1-888-397-3742), www.experian.com. Any one credit company can tell the other two about fraud. Report problems in writing or online.
Be stingy with personal information. Never give out your Social Security number, birth date, or mother's maiden name, unless you asked for the transaction. Do not put such information on forms except for employment, financing, and insurance. Never put such information on a web site or anywhere that is available to the public.
Just say no. Tell your bank that you "opt out" of information sharing. Also, avoid pre-approved credit offers by calling the Credit Reporting Industry Pre-Screening Opt-Out number at 1-888-567-8688.
Travel light. "Don't carry ID that contains sensitive data like your SSN unless absolutely necessary" (Stop Thieves: 16).
Lock it up. Lock your desk, cabinets and safes at the office and at home. Don't leave access to anything sensitive like your driver's license or government ID.
Shred and destroy. Shred any papers containing SSN, account numbers, birth dates. Destroy CDs and floppy disks containing sensitive data. Reformat your hard drive before discarding it.
Guard mail. Discourage mail theft by using a locked mailbox or a postal mailbox.
Keep your eye on the card. Crooks use a handheld card reader to copy your credit and debit card information. So don't let waiters, sales clerks, or gas station attendants take your card out of your sight.
Beware strange ATMs. Avoid private or strange-looking ATMs. They may be rigged to skim data off your card.
Avoid "shoulder surfers." When using pay phones, ATMs, and public Internet access, avoid letting people see what you are doing. "Don't use cordless phones to conduct sensitive financial or medical business" because it's easy to listen in on cordless signals.
Build a wall. Use a firewall and anti-virus software on your computer to stop hackers.
Log off. "Quit your browser and log off after using public Internet-access computers in libraries, Internet cafes, and the like. Don't pay bills, bank, or conduct other financial transactions on public computers. If you have a high-speed Internet connection at home, unplug the computer's cable or phone line when you are not using it to discourage hackers" (Stop Thieves: 17).
Deal only with reputable Web sites. "A professional-looking Web site is no guarantee of security" (Stop Thieves: 17). Read the site's privacy and security policies. Don't enter personal data unless you trust the company and the site. Don't respond to unsolicited emails which ask for personal information. Many sites, including Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, hi5 and others, may pick up and sell your personal information (9 Things).
Use passwords. All your bank and brokerage accounts should have passwords. Use passwords that are not in the dictionary. Consider using a combination of letters and numbers.
Check your workplace. "Ask how your employer safeguards employee records. Request that Social Security numbers not be used as employee ID numbers" (Stop Thieves: 17).
If You Become A Victim
"You might find out that you've been a victim of identity theft through a call from a collection agency… or if you were denied a credit due to a poor credit score" (9 Things).
Report the crime to the local police and keep a copy as proof for creditors and merchants. Some states require that you report the theft in the jurisdiction where it occurred.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (1-877-ID-THEFT). Use an ID theft affidavit from http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/ to notify merchants, banks, and credit bureaus.
Notify a credit-reporting agency. See list of three agencies and their contact information above. Notify one and they will notify the others. Establish fraud alerts (will last 90 days)-means that every time a creditor wants to check your credit report, it will need to call you . You may also wish to request a freeze of your credit report. Also, "instruct the credit bureaus to block information about the fraudulent accounts from future reports" (9 Things).
Notify banks, creditors, utilities. Close accounts used by thieves. Change your passwords and PINs.
"If a bill collector contact[s] you regarding a fraudulent account, inform it that you are a victim of identity theft, and ask for their address. You will need to send them a fraud affidavit that will tell [them] that you are not responsible for the account and that [the] account needs to be closed" (9 Things).
"Check if you are missing any ATM or Credit cards. If yes, report the lost cards to your creditors.
- 9 Things To Do When Your Identity [is] Stolen." Accessed on 5/29/08 at http://800notes.com/articles/
- Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org)
- Stop Thieves From Stealing You." Consumer Reports, October, 2003: 12-17).
C.Glass, 2003; revised 2008