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Protecting Your Identity

Thieves are calling, e-mailing or visiting people requesting account numbers, PIN numbers, Social Security numbers, credit and debit card numbers, or other personal information in attempts to STEAL YOUR MONEY!  DON’T BECOME A VICTIM!

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 10 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft. 

Maybe thieves rummaged through your trash, found a bank statement, and misused your checking account. Or, maybe they rented an apartment using your name. Maybe someone got a credit card using your identity and credit history, and bought expensive stereo equipment. The crime takes many forms.  And maybe you found out about it months later, when your loan application was rejected or when you noticed charges on your credit card statement that you didn’t make.

Identity theft is serious. People whose identities have been stolen can spend hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record.  Consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing, or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. They may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit. The potential for damage, loss, and stress is considerable.

Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information—your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold.

Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information:

  • They may steal your mail, wallet or purse
  • They may get personal information from you by posing as legitimate companies through email, in a practice known as “phishing.”
  • They might lie to you on the phone.
  • They may take your information from businesses or other institutions by stealing personnel records, bribing or conning an employee who has access to these records, or breaking into your records electronically.
  • Some identity theft victims even report that their information has been stolen by someone they know.

 

Once they have your personal information, identity thieves go about their business in a variety of ways.

  • Credit card fraud
    • Thieves may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear under your name—on your credit report.
    • They may change the billing address on your credit card so that you no longer receive bills, and then run up charges on your account. Because your bills are now sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there’s a problem.
  • Phone or utilities fraud
    • Thieves may open a phone or wireless account, or run up charges on your existing account.
    • They may use your name to get utility services like electricity, heating, or cable TV.
  • Government documents fraud
    • They may get a driver’s license or official ID card issued in your name but with their picture.
    • Thieves may use your name to get government benefits.
    • They may file a fraudulent tax return using your information.

Many consumers learn that their identity has been stolen after some damage has been done. 

  • You may find out when bill collection agencies contact you for overdue debts—debts you never incurred.
  • You may find out when you apply for a mortgage or car loan—and learn that problems with your credit history are holding up the loan.
  • You may find out when you get something in the mail about an apartment you never rented, a house you never bought, or a job you never held.

The best way to find out is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and check your credit report on a regular basis. If you check your credit report regularly, you may be able to limit the damage caused by identity theft.

Repairing the damage caused by identity thieves may take time and money. Filing a police report, notifying creditors, and disputing any unauthorized transactions are steps you must take to restore your good name. Repairing the damage can be a costly, time-consuming, and stressful process.

And the more time that goes by before you detect the problem, the more time it may require to resolve it.

Awareness is an effective weapon against identity theft. Awareness of how information is stolen—and what you can do to protect yours. Awareness of the need to monitor your personal information to uncover any problems—quickly. And, awareness of what to do when you suspect your identity has been stolen.  Armed with the knowledge of how to protect yourself and take action, you can make identity thieves’ jobs much more difficult. 

If you suspect identity theft and fraud, it is critical that you:

  • Contact one of the credit reporting agencies
  • Place a fraud alert with them

Equifax               1-800-525-6285

Experian             1-888-397-3742

Trans Union        1-800-680-7289

 

Information for filing a Complaint with the IC3

The IC3 accepts online Internet crime complaints from either the actual victim or from a third party to the complainant.

The IC3 is co-sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). Complaints filed via this website are processed and may be referred to federal, state, local or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for possible investigation.

Filing a complaint with the IC3 in no way serves as a notification to the credit card company that is being disputed for unauthorized charges placed on card or that the credit card number may have been compromised. You should contact your credit card company directly to notify them of your specific concerns.

IC3's Website to file Internet crime complaints..Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).