More and more our office encounters citizens who have become a victim of identity theft. We want this year and into the next to become identity theft free so here is some information that we think you will find useful and help prevent you from being the next victim.
Identity theft is the crime of misusing someone’s personal information to fraudulently set up bank accounts and credit facilities without that person’s knowledge. Someone else pretends to be you to obtain credit, take out a loan, open an account, set up services or obtain identification.
Identity thieves can obtain your personal information in several ways:
- “Dumpster diving” – going through your trash looking for information
- Stealing your mail
- Stealing your wallet or purse
- “Skimming” your debit or credit card numbers – stealing through a data storage device like an ATM or actual transaction
- “Phishing” – sending an email or calling on the telephone falsely claiming to be a legitimate company, agency, bank or organization in order to entice potential victims to divulge personal information
- Obtaining your credit report – posing as an employer or landlord
- “Business record theft” – stealing hard files, hacking into electronic files or bribing an employee for access to files
- Diverting your mail to another location – filling out a “change of address” form
- “Pharming” – rerouting you to a copycat website when you type in a legitimate bank or e-commerce website in order to obtain your personal information
Most people discover their identifying information has been stolen when they apply for credit, such as a loan or credit card, and get denied. Some discover charges on their credit card or debit card they don’t remember making. Other red flags may be your credit card bills or other mail stops coming, you find something incorrect on your credit report, a debt collector calls about a debt you don’t owe and didn’t know about or you are wrongly accused of a crime.
There are several things you can do to prevent having your identity stolen:
You also can email (firstname.lastname@example.org) the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division if you have questions.
- Use a paper shredder to destroy financial documents or other documents with personal information
- Don’t carry your social security card with you or write it on a check. Place the card in a safe place, only give it out when absolutely necessary and ask to use another identifier for accounts
- Change your passwords every 60 days and make them “strong” (more difficult to “crack”) by using a combination of uppercase, lower case, numbers and symbols. Avoid using your birthdate, mother’s maiden name, last four digits of your social security number or other obvious identifying words or numbers
- Order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus each year: Experian, Transunion and Equifax. It contains information about what credit accounts have been opened in your name, as well as where you live and work, how you pay your bills, if you’ve been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy. You are entitled to one free report each year from each of the three major bureaus
- Watch your billing cycles closely. If a bill is late, check with your creditors to see why it has not arrived; and watch for any unauthorized charges or unexpected account statements
- Have your mail sent to a post office box or get a locking mailbox. Also take outgoing mail to the post office
- Only use a secure connection on the internet when sending credit card numbers or other personal information. The cite should begin with “https” with “s” meaning “secure”
- Use virus protection and a firewall program to prevent your computer from being accessed by others, and keep them up to date. Don’t download files or click on links from unknown sources; instead type in a web address you know. Also, unplug your Internet when you’re not using it
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having work done at your house
- Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers and receive fewer solicitations at home by calling 888-567-8688 or visiting www.optoutprescreen.com
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, here are the steps initially you should follow;
Contact your banking institutions and credit card companies, inform them that you believe your identity has been compromised.
Go to Annual Credit Report Website and print your credit reports
Bring all the above listed forms with you to the Police Department to file the report.
The Police Officer will provide you with additional information from there.
The most important thing to remember is that “if it sounds too good to be true, most likely it is too good to be true”.
Also check FTC for more info and resources…