Identity theft or identity fraud
is the taking of the victims identity to obtain credit, credit cards from
banks and retailers, steal money from the victims existing accounts, apply
for loans, establish accounts with utility companies, rent an apartment, file
bankruptcy or obtain a job using the victims name. It can take months or
even years before the victim is aware of it.
How can it happen?
All that is needed is your social security number, your birth date and other identifying
information such as your address and phone number and whatever else they can find
out about you. With the exception of your SSN, this imformation is remarkedly
easy to find. With this information, and a false drivers license with their
own picture, they can begin the crime. They apply in person for instant credit,
or through the mail by posing as you. They often provide an address of their own,
claiming to have moved. Often credit issuers do not verify this information. Once
the imposter has opened the first account, they use this new account along with
the other identifiers to add to their credibility, and the thief is well on his
(or her) way to getting rich and ruining your credit and good name.
do they find your information?
Lots of places- your doctor, accountant,
lawyer, dentist, school, place of work, health insurance carrier, and many others
have your identifying information. If some criminally minded person is working
at the office (or just visiting) finds this information, you would not know it.
There are also Dumpster Divers who sort through rubbish for any un-shredded information,
like utility bills or credit card slips. Or there's the more obvious ways, like
losing your wallet or being burgled.
How can I prevent this from
Destroy all papers you don't need, especially those with
sensitive or identifying information. Paper shredders are best. Don't carry your
social security card with you, or any cards or badges that may have your number
on it. Don't put your SSN on checks.
Check all three of your credit
reports once a year. This is one of the best ways to find out if someone
is using your information without your knowledge. In most cases it will cost about
$8 for each report unless you are a victim of financial crime or turned down for
a job or credit due to your credit report.
Block your name from marketing
lists - 888-5OPTOUT. This will reduce the number of pre-approved credit card offers
Get credit cards with your picture on them. Cancel any credit
cards you rarely or no longer use - which means contacting the company, not just
cutting up the card.
Watch what happens to your credit card when you give
it to a salesperson or clerk. They could double skim charging you for your purchase
but also running your card through a computer scanner. Later this information
is downloaded on a counterfeit card and used by imposters.
can I protect myself after it has happened?
As soon as you are made
aware of the fraud (usually a creditor will contact you or you will be denied
credit, or you will see charges that are not yours on bills) you must immediately
contact the three major credit reporting agencies by phone and letter to put a
fraud alert on your credit profile (see links below). Get copies of the reports
so that you will know which are the fraud accounts, and call the police in the
county where the fraud occurs. You will need detailed help, and it is available
free from various organisations (links below). They can provide copies of attorney-written
fill-in the blanks form letters to send to all the necessary agencies.
police departments are reluctant to write a report on this type of crime. First
of all, they may tell you that you are not the victim, because the credit grantor,
who lost the money, is the victim. They often want the report to come from the
creditor who many times will not cooperate because it is not cost effective for
them to spend the time and energy to assist the police. They may have already
lost thousands of dollars. This fraud loss (to them!) is viewed as a cost of doing
business. It is not fair to you as the victim, and things have to change, but
that is the situation in many places.
Even if the creditor wont prosecute,
you must insist that the police take a report. Speak to the head of the fraud
unit, (or white-collar crime unit) of the police department in the county(s) or
cities where the fraud accounts were opened. (If accounts were opened all over
the nation, you may be able to get the secret service involved) You will need
a report to clean up the credit mess.
If you still have trouble, call and
write to the Chief of Police (see the letter in the Identity Theft Survival Kit).
You may need to call the Mayor of the City Council. If you get stuck, contact
The California Public Interest Research Group (PIRG,) or The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
or call an attorney for assistance.
See the Federal Trade Commission's information
Keep the credit you still have...
credit worthiness is shaky due to the fraud, you will probably have a hard time
getting new credit in the near future. If you stop your credit, you may have trouble
getting loans, a rental car, or even a job. For those accounts that have not be
touched by the impersonator, immediately notify each credit grantor of your true
accounts, and tell them that you are a victim of identity fraud. Tell them that
they are not to change your address without verification from you in writing from
your present address.