THEFT - PREVENTION
According to the FBI, identity
theft is the fastest growing white collar crime in the United States. When your
purse or wallet gets stolen, the cash inside may not be the only thing a thief
wants to steal. The most valuable items in your wallet are your Social Security
number, ATM card, credit cards, bank checks, and any other items containing your
personal information. Additionally, during the course of a busy day, you share
this information when making transactions in person, over the telephone and online
to buy goods and services. If this sensitive information falls into the hands
of a criminal, it may be used to steal your financial identity.
it is impossible to guarantee that identity theft will never happen to you, this
page provides information about how to reduce your chances of becoming a victim
and what actions you can take if does occur.
theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number, credit card
number or some other piece of your personal information to apply for a credit
card, make unauthorized purchases, gain access to your bank accounts or obtain
loans under your name. Unfortunately, most people do not know that they have been
victims of identity theft until mysterious charges appear on their credit card
bills or they are rejected for a mortgage
because unpaid bills appear on their credit report.
Social Security number is the most valuable piece of your personal financial information
because it is your main identifying number for employment, tax reporting, and
credit history tracking purposes. If your Social Security number falls in the
hands of a thief, you could face serious problems as a result. A thief could use
your Social Security number to obtain employment, open credit card accounts or
obtain loans under your name. The best way to protect yourself is to guard your
Social Security number and provide it to others only when absolutely necessary.
request your Social Security number for general record keeping. If they do, ask
how your Social Security number will be used and whether you can use any other
identifying number instead.
If your Social Security
number is stolen, applying for a new one may not solve your identity theft problem.
For example, a new Social Security number may not ensure a new credit record because
credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old Social Security number
with your new one. Moreover, even when the old credit history is not associated
with your new Social Security number, the absence of any credit history under
your new Social Security number may make it more difficult to obtain credit.
are numerous ways in which an identity thief can make unauthorized charges on
your existing credit card accounts, or open up new accounts under your name. An
ordinary thief might steal your wallet or purse and try to make use of your stolen
cards and checks. The more sophisticated thief can fill out a change of address
form from the post office to get all your bills sent to another address. He or
she can also call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, change the
mailing address on your credit card accounts. The impostor then runs up charges
on your account. Since your bills are being sent to a new address, you may not
immediately realize the problem. An identity thief might also open new accounts
under your name by stealing and completing a pre-approved credit card offer sent
to you in the mail, using your name, date of birth and Social Security number,
but a different address, on the application form. If this occurs, you may not
discover that a new account has been opened under your name until the unpaid bills
appear on your credit report.
can also obtain your credit card information from purchases you make at stores,
over the telephone or online. For example, the credit card information you provide
in person or over the telephone during a purchase can be improperly used to make
unauthorized charges on your account. In addition, thieves can obtain your credit
card number and other personal information through fraudulent or unsecured Web
sites. No matter how professional looking the Web site, check the companys
reliability with the Better Business Bureau before doing business with it, review
the Web sites security policy, and be sure to use a secure browser if you
are providing credit card information online. In the address window of your browser,
check to see that the first part of the companys Web address changes from
"http://" to "https://;" and also check the lower corner
of the Web page to see whether a lock or key symbol appears, signifying security.
Using a secure browser helps to ensure the safety of your personal data when it
is being transmitted to a companys computers.
making online purchases, check the Web sites user agreement and privacy
policy to find out how the company uses your credit card and other personal information.
you provide is stored in the companys database and whether you can opt out
of being added to the companys mailing list or having the company share
your personal information with a third party. Privacy Seal programs, such as the
Better Business Bureaus BBBOnline program, provide seals for Web sites that
have met certain standards for protecting the privacy of the consumer information
that they collect.
Identity thieves can drain
your checking account by stealing your checks or your checking account number
from your home or office and forging your signature, or by making counterfeit
checks in your name, using a home computer. Some thieves even use cleaning solvent
to remove what is already written on a check, making it payable to themselves.
If your checks have been stolen or misused, immediately notify your bank, place
a stop payment order, and close your checking account.
aware that identity thieves can also open checking accounts in your name using
personal information such as your Social Security number. When they write bad
checks on that account, those debts appear on your credit report.
thieves can establish new cellular telephone service in your name or make unauthorized
calls that seem to come from, and are billed to, your cellular phone. Others make
unauthorized charges by using your calling card and PIN. If this occurs, contact
your service provider to close your existing account, and establish another one
with a new PIN.
|You may receive e-mail requests that seem to be from your Internet Service Provider stating that your "account information needs to be updated" or that "the credit card you used to sign up for service is invalid or expired and the information needs to be reentered to keep your account active." Such requests may come from scam artists seeking to obtain your personal information to commit fraud. If you receive this kind of request, do not respond without checking with your Internet Service Provider first.
identity theft is growing by storm. You may recieve emails from banking companies
or financial accounts alerting you of misuse of your account or data loss asking
you to please login and update your account information. Never login to a website
asking for personal information straight through an email. Scammers use this
channel to trap you into releasing your personal information. The process is simple.
A scammer creates a "bogus" banking entry page, which may look exactly
like your banks website, but it is a fake! They do this by copying images off
of the banks home page and creating an exact duplicate web page, which is easier
than you would think. As soon as you login to what you believe is "your account"
from the link in your email, the scammers have now recorded your login and password
information. In most cases, after logging in, you get a thank you message confirming
your account is now verified. Most people login and logout without ever thinking
much of it. To avoid any chance of this, you should always go straight to the
main website and login. Never login through an email.
where this email takes you | See
what happens after
Trade Commission warns that some companies that claim to be identity theft
prevention services are guises for obtaining personal information from you such
as your drivers license number, mothers maiden name, Social Security
number and credit and bank account numbers. Remember, do not give out any personal
information over the phone or online unless you are familiar with the business
that is asking for it. If you are unsure about a firm, check it out with the Better
Although there is no method
for guaranteeing that identity theft will never happen to you, below are tips
than can help you minimize your risk:
the cards you actually need. Minimize the identification information and the number
of cards you carry in your wallet or purse. Do not carry your Social Security
card unless you need it.
Never put your account
information on the outside of an envelope or on a postcard.
up old or expired credit cards. Close all inactive credit card and bank
accounts. Even though you do not use them, these accounts appear on your credit
report and may be used by thieves.
For your ATM
card, choose a Personal Identification Number (PIN) different from your address,
telephone number, middle name, the last four digits of your Social Security number,
your birth date or any other information that could be easily discovered by thieves.
Memorize your PIN; do not write it on your ATM
card or keep it written on a piece of paper somewhere in your wallet. Statistics
show that in many instances of ATM card fraud, cardholders wrote their PINs on
their ATM cards or on slips of paper kept with their wallets or purses.
personal information in a safe place. If you employ outside help or are having
service work done in your home, keep your personal information out of sight.
your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use another
type of identifying number whenever possible.
not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the
Internet unless you have initiated contact or know the business with which you
Compare your ATM receipts and cashed
checks with your periodic bank statements to check for unauthorized transfers
Shred credit card statements, bank
statements and pre-approved credit offers when you do not need them. Consider
investing in a paper shredder.
Decrease the number
of unsolicited credit card applications that you receive. The fewer credit card
applications you receive, the less likely it is that one will be stolen. Call
(888) 5OPT-OUT to have your name removed from the marketing lists sold by the
major credit bureaus for two years, or removed permanently.
your bank about its privacy policies and information practices. Find out the circumstances
under which your bank would provide your account information to a third party.
Order a copy of your credit report from the three
credit reporting agencies at least once every year to review your file for possible
One of the most frustrating aspects of
identity fraud is that you may not discover it until it has already occurred.
Below are some of the warning signs:
bills for a credit card account you never opened, or you may notice unfamiliar
and unauthorized charges on your bills. Collection agencies may contact you regarding
the payment of such debts.
A billing cycle passes
without receiving your credit card statement or other expected mail - because
it has been sent to a different address.
statements include transfers or withdrawals you do not remember, checks are missing
from your checkbook, or new checks do not arrive in the mail.
get turned down for a credit card, mortgage or other loan because your credit
report includes debts you never knew you had.
most important thing to do when you discover identity fraud is to take action
right away. Remember to keep records of all your telephone calls and other correspondence
with companies regarding the identity fraud.
a report with your local
police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
Keep a copy of the police report and make note of the date of your report, in
case your bank, credit card company or other company needs proof of the crime.
If you suspect that your mail is being diverted
to another address, check with your local post office to see whether an unauthorized
change of address form has been filed under your name.
your credit card issuers right away to check on the status of your accounts if
your bills do not arrive on time. If necessary, close all your accounts. You should
keep a record in a safe place, separate from your credit cards, of your account
numbers, expiration dates, and the telephone numbers of each card issuer so you
can report a loss quickly.
Notify your bank at
once if your ATM card has been stolen or if unauthorized transfers and withdrawals
have been made on one or more of your accounts. Alert your bank if your checks
are stolen or missing. When you open new bank accounts, ask that a password be
used before any inquiries or changes can be made to the accounts and avoid using
a PIN that may be discovered by a thief, such as your birth date or the last four
digits of your Social Security number.
your credit cards may stop impostors from using your existing accounts, but it
does not stop them from opening new accounts under your name. To prevent this
from occurring, if your cards may have been misused by an unauthorized party,
contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and ask
them to "flag" your file as one belonging to a possible fraud victim.
This warning will include a statement that creditors should call to get your permission
before approving new credit cards or loans in your name. After calling each of
the three credit bureaus (at bottom), you should follow up with them in writing.
Keep copies of such written notices.
Ask the credit
bureaus for copies of your credit reports. You are entitled to a free copy
of your credit report if you were recently denied credit or if your report
is inaccurate because of fraud. Review your report carefully to make sure no unauthorized
charges were made on your existing accounts and that no fraudulent accounts or
loans were established in your name. In a few months, order new copies of your
credit reports to verify that the inaccurate information has been removed and
no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
each of the creditors for any accounts that were tampered with or falsely established
in your name. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department. According
to the Fair
Credit Reporting Act, you must follow up the calls with a letter to the creditor.
When writing to a credit card company, be sure to send the letter to the address
provided to report billing errors. Do not send it to the address where you send
payments, unless you are directed to do so.
you report the loss before the credit card is used, the card issuer cannot hold
you responsible for any unauthorized charges. If a thief uses your credit card
before you report it missing, the most you will owe for unauthorized charges is
$50 per card. This is true even if the thief uses your credit card at an ATM machine
to obtain a cash advance.
As such liability is
limited to $50, beware of calls from telemarketers selling "loss protection"
insurance. Some telemarketers may falsely claim that you will be responsible for
all unauthorized charges made against your account if your credit card is stolen.
Dont buy the pitch and dont buy the unnecessary insurance.
aware that ATM and debit cards do not allow the same protections as credit cards.
If you fail to report unauthorized charges within a timely manner, you could be
held liable for the charges.
If you report an
ATM or debit card missing before it is used without your permission, your financial
institution cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized withdrawals.
you report your ATM or debit card lost or stolen within two business days of discovering
the loss or theft, your liability is limited to $50.
you report your ATM or debit card lost or stolen after the two business days,
but within 60 days after a statement showing an unauthorized withdrawal, you can
be liable for up to $500 of what a thief withdraws.
If you wait more than
60 days, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account after the
end of the 60 days and before you report the card missing.
states hold the bank responsible for the losses from a forged check. However,
you may be held liable for the forgery if you do not notify the back in a timely
manner that a check was lost or stolen, or if you do not monitor your account
statements and promptly report an unauthorized transaction.
each of the three major credit bureaus if you discover that you are the victim
of identity fraud. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you
are unemployed, on welfare, were recently denied credit or if your report is inaccurate
because of fraud. Otherwise, there is a small fee for your credit report. When
contacting the credit bureaus, you need to provide your Social Security number,
date of birth, phone number, current address, any previous addresses over the
past two years, and the name of your current employer.
report fraud by mail, contact Equifax at
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374.
Allen, TX 75013.
P.O. Box 1000
U.S. Postal Inspector can assist if an identity thief stole your mail to get new
credit cards, bank and credit card statements, prescreened offers, tax information,
or if a thief has falsified change-of-address forms. Contact your local post office
for the phone number for the nearest postal inspection service or check the Postal
Service Web site at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is
one of the federal criminal law enforcement agencies that investigates cases of
identity theft. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone
directory. You can also access the FBIs Web site at www.fbi.gov.
Better Business Bureau Serving Metropolitan New York (BBB) can be contacted if
you would like to check the Reliability Rating of a company or if you have a problem
resolving fraudulent charges. To file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau
through this Web site, click here: www.bbb.org/bbbcomplaints/Welcome.asp