Protect Your Identity!
Did you know that knowing just one fact about you enables a criminal to alter your credit history and affect your future?
Now ask yourself...Can this happen to you?
The answer is YES!
Clearly, it’s up to you to protect yourself. Here’s what you need to know.
An identity thief does not just steal your credit card and go on a spending spree. He gets new cards, opens new accounts and takes out new loans, leaving a trail of unpaid bills in your name. He can even use your identity to commit crimes or acts of terrorism. Most victims do not find out what has happened until long afterward, when they are called by a collection agency or turned down for a loan.
The thief may not be a stranger to you. It maybe someone you know, someone you work with or even a business associate.
Setting the record straight is a nightmare that can take years. In serious cases, victims spend an average of 600 hours and $1,400 in out-of-pocket expenses to repair their credit. Until you “prove” your innocence, you may face higher insurance rates and credit card fees, be rejected for a loan, find you can’t get a job and/or even be arrested for crimes you did not commit.
What you can do now is periodically check your credit report for suspicious activity. As of September 01, 2005, all Americans will be entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Visit Annual Credit Report.com to request these. By requesting a report every four months, you can keep free tabs on your record year-around. (Go to www.FTC.gov/credit for more information.)
Do not respond to a “phishing” e-mail. It looks just like a message from a company that you do business with and often warns that your account will be terminated if you do not “update” or “verify” your financial information with 24 hours. Don’t click on the links in this e-mail! To check it out, call the company yourself.
Stolen wallets and checkbooks remain the most frequent sources of ID theft. So here are some safety measures:
- Avoid carrying your checkbook or your Social Security Card. Photocopy your card and cut out the last four digits.
- Never give out your Social Security number without first asking, “What happens if I do not give it?” Most of the time, the answer is, “Nothing.”
- Do not use your Mother’s real maiden name or your real city of birth as identifiers. But never make up a Social Security number. This creates a problem for someone else.
- Try to add passwords to online and offline accounts, so that anyone who calls your bank or mutual fund needs more that your name, address, and Social Security number to impersonate you.
- Make sure your mail is delivered to a locked box.
- Buy a cross-cut shedder and destroy all unsolicited preapproved credit offers and blank “courtesy” checks.
- Shred or tear up receipts, old bank statements and unused credit cards before throwing away.
- Review your bank and credit card statements as soon as you receive them to check for unauthorized transactions.
- Report any suspected fraud to your bank and credit card issuers immediately so they can start to close accounts and clear your name right away. You may also contact the FTC’s ID Theft Consumer Response Center toll-free at (877) IDTHEFT.
Manage Your Mailbox
- Do not leave bill payment envelopes clipped to your mailbox or outside with the flag up; criminals may steal your mail and change your address.
- Know your billing cycles, and watch for any missing mail. Follow up with creditors if bills or new cards do not arrive on time. An identity thief may have filed a change of address request in your name with the creditor or the post office.
- Carefully review your monthly accounts, credit card statements and utility bills (including cellular telephone bills) for unauthorized charges as soon as you receive them. If you suspect unauthorized use, contact the provider’s customer service and fraud department immediately.
- When you order new checks, ask when you can expect delivery. If your mailbox is not secure, then ask to pick up the checks at the bank instead of having them delivered to your home.
- Although many consumers appreciate the convenience and customer service of general direct mail, some prefer not to receive offers of preapproved financing or credit. To opt out of receiving such offers, call (888) 5 OPT OUT sponsored by the three credit bureaus.
- The Direct Marketing Association offers services to help reduce the number of mail and telephone solicitations. To join their mail preference service, mail your name, home address and signature to: Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P. O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008.
Check Your Purse or Wallet
- Never leave your purse or wallet unattended – even for a minute.
- Protect your PIN’s (don’t carry them in your wallet!) and passwords; use a 10-digit combination of letters and numbers for your passwords, and change them periodically.
- Carry only personal identification and credit cards you actually need in your purse or wallet. If your I.D. or credit cards are lost or stolen, notify the creditors immediately, and ask the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert in your file.
- Keep a list of all your credit cards and bank accounts along with their account numbers, expiration dates and credit limits, as well as the telephone numbers of customer service and fraud department. Store the list in a safe place.
- If your state uses your Social Security Number as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number.
Keep Your Personal Numbers Safe and Secure
If You are a Victim…..
- Act fast – and brace yourself. You may face uncooperative credit and law enforcement agencies. For emotional support and sound advice, rely on organizations like ITRC (at www.idtheftcenter.org) and books like Mari Frank’s From Victim to Victor. A Step by Step Guide for Ending the Nightmare of Identity Theft, which lists the agencies to call for help and provides all the legal letters you need to send.
- Call Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to a fraud alert on your credit report. This alert lasts up to 90 days and requires creditors’ to call you before opening new accounts in your name. But be warned: There are no legal requirements to honor alerts; merchants eager to make sales often ignore them. A list of all the agencies and their toll free numbers are listed below for your convenience.
- Close your credit card accounts and change the passwords on all your financial accounts.
- File a police report. Credit bureaus will not extend a fraud alert without it.
- Mail copies of the police report to all three credit agencies with a cover letter demanding your complete credit file.
- Call every creditor with a bogus account listed in your file and have them close it immediately. Demand copies of all fraudulent applications for credit and billing statements. Creditors do not want to divulge that information-but they will if you request it in writing and enclose a copy of the police report.
P. O. Box 740250
Atlanta, GA 30374
P. O. Box 1017
Allen, TX 75013
P. O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634
Report all suspicious contacts to the Federal Trade Commission through the Internet at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT.