Identity Theft Awareness

Identity theft is a criminal offense.  It occurs when a person knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit or to aid or abet any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law."  - Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, 18 USC 1028(a)(7)  More than ever, it is time for you to be informed of a rising crime - Identity Theft.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when a thief steals key pieces of personal identifying information, which may include name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, and mother's maiden name, to gain access to a person's financial accounts.  Armed with this information, an identity thief may open credit or financial accounts, buy cars, apply for loans or Social Security benefits, rent an apartment, or set up utility and phone service--in someone else's name. 

How Identity Theft OccursDespite your best efforts to keep personal information private, skilled identity thieves utilize a variety of methods to gain this information.

  • They steal wallets, purses and mail.
  • They complete "change of address forms" to divert mail.
  • They rummage through trash, or the trash of businesses, searching for personal data.
  • They fraudulently obtain credit reports by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone who may have a legitimate need for, and a legal right to, the information.
  • They get business or personnel records at work.
  • They find personal information in homes.
  • They use personal information YOU share on the Internet.
  • They buy personal information from "inside" sources.

How Identity Thieves Use Personal Information

  • They call credit card issuers and pretending to be account holders and ask for an address change.
  • They open new credit card accounts.
  • They establish phone or wireless services.
  • They open bank accounts and write bad checks.
  • They file for bankruptcy.
  • They counterfeit checks or debit cards.
  • They buy cars by taking out auto loans.

How to Minimize Your RiskWhile you probably cannot prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk by managing personal information wisely with awareness, you can guard against becoming a victim:

  • Before you reveal any personal information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles and follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time.
  • Guard your mail from theft:  DO NOT deposit outgoing mail in your mail box-take it to the post office collection box or local post office.
  • Promptly remove mail from your mailbox.  Do not leave mail in your mailbox overnight or on weekends.
  • Put passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts.
  • Minimize identification information and the number of cards you carry to what you may actually need.
  • Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the internet.
  • Keep items with personal information in a safe place.
  • Tear up unwanted documents that contain personal information.
  • Review your consumer credit report annually.
  • Find out who has access to your personal information in the workplace.
  • Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary.
  • Don’t carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.
  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you disguard them.
  • Never click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails; instead type in a web address you know.
  • Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date.  Visit OnGuardOnLine.gov for more information.

What Can You Do If You’re a VictimIf you suspect that your personal information has been hijacked and misappropriated to commit fraud or theft, taken action immediately, and keep a record of your conversations and correspondence.  Three basic actions are appropriate in almost every case.

First: Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Tell them that you are a victim of identity theft.  Request that a “fraud alert” be placed on your file, as well as a victim’s statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts.  At the same time, order copies of your credit reports.  Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, and you request it in writing.  Check that section of the report that lists "inquiries."  Where inquiries appear from company(ies) that opened the fraudulent account(s), request that these inquiries be removed from your report.

Second: Contact the creditors of any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Creditors can include credit card companies, phone companies and other utilities, and banks and other lenders.  Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each creditor, and follow up with a letter.  It is important to notify credit card companies in writing because that is the consumer protection procedure the law spells out for resolving errors on credit card billing statements.  Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new Personal identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords.

Third: File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card company, or others need proof of the crime.  Even if the police can’t catch the identify thief, having a copy of the report can help you when dealing with creditors.

How To Take ControlAlthough there is no question that identity thieves can wreak havoc on your personal finances, there are some things you can do to take control of the situation.  For example:

  • Stolen mail.  It’s a crime!  Report it to your local postal inspector.
  • Change of address on credit card accounts.  If you discover that your billing address has been changed on an existing credit card account, close the account.  When you open a new account, ask that the password be used before any inquiries or changes can be made on the account.
  • Bank accounts.  If you have reason to believe your bank accounts have been tampered with, close the accounts immediately.  Insist on password-only access to your new account to minimize further violation.  If your checks have been stolen, stop payment.  Contact the major check verification companies to request they notify retailers using their database not to accept these checks, or ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business.  Three of the check verification companies that accept reports of check fraud directly from consumers are:

  Telecheck: 800-710-9898;
  International Check Services: 800-631-9656;
  Equifax: 800-437-5120.

  • Investments.  If you believe your securities, investments, or a brokerage account has been tampered with, immediately report it to your broker or account manager and to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • Phone Service.  If new phone service has been established in your name; someone is making unauthorized calls from your cellular phone number; or is using a calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and/or calling card.  Open new accounts and choose new PINs.  If you have trouble removing fraudulent phone charges from your account, contact your state Public Utility Commission for local service providers or the Federal Communications Commission for long-distance service providers and cellular providers or call 888-CALL-FCC.
  • Employment.  If you believe your SSN is being used to apply for a job or to work, that is a crime.  Report it to the SSA’s (Social Security Administration) Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271.  Also call SSA at 800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of the earnings reported on your SSN, and to request a copy of your Social Security Statement.  Follow up your calls in writing.
  • Driver’s license.  If you suspect that your name or SSN is being used to get a driver’s license or a non-driver’s ID card, contact your Department of Motor Vehicles.  If your state uses your SSN as your driver’s license number, as to substitute another number.
  • Bankruptcy.  If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy using your name, write to the U.S. Trustee in the Region where the bankruptcy was filed.  A listing of the U.S. Trustee Program’s Regions can be found at www.usdoj.gov/ust, or look in the Blue Pages of your phone book under U.S. Government – Bankruptcy Administration.
  • Criminal records/arrests. In rare instances, an identity thief may crate a criminal record under your name.  For example, your imposter may give your name when being arrested.  If this happens to you, you may need to hire an attorney to help resolve the problem.  The procedures for clearing your name vary by jurisdiction.

Web sites for credit card companies:

•   American Express
•   Discover
•   MasterCard
•   Visa

How To Resolve Credit ProblemsResolving credit problems resulting from identity theft can be time-consuming and frustrating.  The good news is that there are federal laws that establish procedures for correcting credit report errors and billing errors, and for stopping debt collectors from contact you about debts you don’t owe.  A brief summary of your rights include:

Credit Reports

The Fair Credit Report Act (FCRA) establishes procedures for correcting mistakes.  Under the FCRA, both the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the credit bureau (the “information provider”), such as a bank or credit card company, are responsible for correcting accurate or incomplete information in your report.  Detailed information on procedure is available at the South Elgin Police Department by requesting a copy of the South Elgin Police Department Identity Theft Awareness report or consult How to Dispute Credit Report Errors and Fair Credit Reporting, two brochures available from the FTC or at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

Credit Cards

The Truth in Lending Act limits your liability to unauthorized credit card charges in most cares to $50 per card.  For more information, request a copy of the South Elgin Police Department Identity Theft Awareness report or see Fair Credit Billing and Avoiding Credit and Charge Card Fraud, two brochures available from the FTC or at www.consumer.gov/idtheft

Debt Collectors

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using unfair or deceptive practices to collect overdue bills that a creditor has forwarded for connection.  For more information, request a copy of the South Elgin Police Department Identity Theft Awareness report or consult Fair Debt Collection, a brochure available from the FTC or at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

ATM Cards, Debit Cards and Electronic Fund Transfers

The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides consumer protections from transactions involving an ATM or debit card or other electronic way to debit or credit an account.  It also limits your liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers.  For more information, request a copy of the South Elgin Police Department Identity Theft Awareness report or consult Electronic Banking and Credit and ATM Cards: What To Do If They’re Lost or Stolen, two brochures available from the FTC or at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft.  Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criinal cases, the Commission helps victims of identity theft by providing them with information to help resolve the financial and other problems that can result from identity theft.  The FTC also may refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for action.

A victim, file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at toll-free 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502; by mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC  20580; or on line:  www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

Credit Bureaus:

To order your report, call: 800-685-1111 or write:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA  30374-0241
To report fraud, call:  800-525-6285 and write:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA  30374-0241

To order your report, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Or write:  P.O. Box 949, Allen TX  75013-0949
To report fraud, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) and write:
P.O. Box 949, Allen TX  75013-0949

To order your report, call: 800-916-8800 or write:
P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA  19022
To report fraud, call: 800-680-7289 and write:
Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790,
Fullerton, CA  92634

Order a copy of your credit report from each of three major credit reporting agencies.  Make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities you have authorized.  The law allows credit bureaus to charge you up to $8.50 for a copy of your credit report.

The South Elgin Police Department has available a report "When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name - South Elgin Police Department Identity Theft Awareness."  To obtain a copy, contact the department at 847-741-2151.

Be informed, it is your best weapon!