Identity theft involves acquiring key pieces of someone’s identifying information, such as name, address, date of birth, social security number and mother’s maiden name, in order to impersonate them. This information enables the identity thief to commit numerous forms of fraud which include, but are not limited to, taking over the victim’s financial accounts, opening new bank accounts, purchasing automobiles, applying for loans, credit cards and social security benefits, renting apartments, and establishing services with utility and phone companies. There are two types of identity theft: New Account and Account Takeover.
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 makes it a federal crime when someone:“knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
Note that under the Act, a name or SSN is considered a “means of identification.” So is a credit card number, cellular telephone electronic serial number or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual.
Contact your state Attorney General’s office or local consumer protection agency to find out whether your state has laws related to identity theft, or visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft. This website is a one-stop national resource to learn about the crime of identity theft. It provides detailed information to help you deter, detect, and defend against identity theft.
Key Preventive Actions:
- Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery.
- Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection mailboxes or at your local post office. Do not leave in unsecured mail receptacles.
- Never give personal information over the telephone.
- Shred pre-approved credit applications, credit card receipts, bills and other financial information.
- Empty your wallet of extra credit cards and IDs.
- Order your credit report from the three credit bureaus once a year to check for fraudulent activity.
- Never leave receipts at bank/credit union machines, bank/credit union counters, trash receptacles, or unattended gasoline pumps.
- Memorize your social security number and all of your passwords.
- Sign the back of all new credit cards “Check Photo ID” – not your signature – upon receipt.
- Save all credit card receipts and match them against your monthly bill.
- Report all lost or stolen credit cards immediately.
Internet and On-Line Services:
- Use caution when disclosing checking account numbers, credit card numbers or other personal financial data at any web site or on-line service location unless you receive a secured authentication key from your provider.
- When you subscribe to an on-line service, you may be asked to give credit card information. When you enter any interactive service site, beware of con artists who may ask you to “confirm” your enrollment service by disclosing passwords or credit card account number used to subscribe.
- Check out the FTC website for practical information on a variety of consumer topics. The information here can help you avoid rip-offs and exercise your consumer rights.
Who to Contact Regarding Your Credit Report:
Action Steps for Identity Theft Victims:
- Contact all creditors, by phone and in writing, to inform them of the problem.
Call your nearest U.S. Postal Inspection Service office and your local police.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the problem.
- Call each of the three credit bureaus’ fraud units to report identity theft. Ask to have a “Fraud Alert/Victim Impact” statement placed in your credit file asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts.
- Alert your banks/credit unions to flag your accounts and contact you to confirm any unusual activity.
- Request a change of PIN and a new password.
- Keep a log of all your contacts and make copies of all documents. You may also want to contact a privacy or consumer advocacy group regarding illegal activity.
- Contact the Social Security Administration’s Fraud Hotline.
- Contact the state office of the Department of Motor Vehicles to see if another license was issued in your name. If so, request a new license number and fill out the DMV’s compliant form to begin the fraud investigation process.
Report Identity Theft to:
- Equifax Credit Bureau, Fraud 1-800-525-6285
- Experian Information Solutions 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion Credit Bureau, Fraud 1-800-680-7289
- Federal Trade Commission 1-877-FTC-Help (www.consumer.gov/idtheft)
- Local Police Department
- Social Security Administration, Fraud Hotline 1-800-269-0271
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service – visit their web site at www.usps.gov/postalinspectors