What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a crime. Imposters use key pieces of your personal information such as your Social Security and driver's license numbers to obtain funds for their personal gain. Once your information has been stolen, it may take months or years and thousands of dollars to regain your good name and credit record. The process to regain your identity is a long and tedious one.
Common Types of Identity Theft
The following are different types of Identity Theft to be aware of:
- Financial ID Theft: The identity thief is typically using your name and Social Security Number to get a credit card, loan, or simply buy things by claiming to be someone else.
- Criminal ID Theft: Your personal information is used by the thief when stopped by law enforcement.
- Identity Cloning: An imposter establishes a “new life” using your personal information.
- Business or Commercial Identity Theft: Credit cards or checking accounts with the businesses name are used unbeknownst to the business owner.
Prevent Identity Theft
The best defense against Identity theft is a good offense. Here are a few suggestions to help prevent Identity Theft:
- Do not carry your SSN card.
- Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary.
- Why do you need my SSN?
- How will my SSN be used?
- How do you protect my SSN from being stolen?
- What will happen if I don't give you my SSN?
Some businesses may not provide you with the information you want until they verify your identity. By getting answers to the above questions, you will make an informed decision on whether you want to share your SSN with the business.
- Use a password for your credit card, financial institution and phone accounts. Use something unusual. Make your passwords fun but definitely something you will remember.
- When going out, only carry the cards that are actually needed.
- Treat your mail and trash carefully. Shred or tear mail that may have personal information inside and deposit your outgoing mail at the post office.
- Periodically review your credit report. This report contains information on where you live, where you work, the credit accounts that you have open, how you pay your bills and whether you have been sued, arrested or filed bankruptcy. By reviewing your credit report, you can verify the account balances and authorized activity.
Identity Theft Resources
Scams and Phishing
Phishing is a scam that uses spam or pop-up messages. The scam attempts to mislead you into releasing your confidential information. Phishing is imitating legitimate companies in e-mails to entice people to share passwords or credit card numbers. Spoofing is pretending to be something it is not, on the Internet, usually an e-mail or a Web site.
How to report Phishing
- Forward e-mail to www.antiphishing.org
- Forward e-mail to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov
- Forward the e-mail to the “abuse” e-mail address at the company that is being spoofed ( e.g., pages.ebay.com).
- When forwarding spoofed messages, always include the entire original e-mail with its original header information intact.
- Notify the Internet Crime Complaint Center of the FBI by filing a complaint on their Web site: www.ic3.gov
Recommended Actions if You've become a Victim of a Phishing Scam
If you have given out your credit, debit or ATM card information:
- Report the event to the card issuer as quickly as possible
- Using toll-free numbers and 24-hour services that most companies have established to deal with such emergencies.
- Request to have your card closed and a new card reissued with a new number.
- Watch your account activity and review account statements carefully.
- If any unauthorized charges appear, call the card issuer immediately and follow up with a hard copy letter via a traditional delivery service such as the U.S. Postal Service ( keep a copy for yourself) describing each questionable charge.
Credit Card Loss or Fraudulent Charges
Your maximum liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your credit card is generally $50. However, that $50 potential liability probably does not apply for unauthorized telephone and Internet transactions because there is “no means to identify the card holder” in those cases.
ATM or Debit Card Loss or Fraudulent Charges
- Your liability under Federal law for unauthorized use of your ATM or debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss.
- You risk unlimited loss if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days after your statement containing unauthorized use is mailed to you for transactions made after that 60 day period.
If you have given out your Account Information
- Report the theft of this information to the financial institution as quickly as possible.
- Request your financial institution close the compromised account and re-open a like account with a different number.
If you have downloaded a Virus or “Trojan Horse”
Some phishing attacks use viruses and/ or “Trojan Horses” to install programs called “key loggers” on your computer. These programs capture and send out any information that you type to the phisher, including credit card numbers, user names, passwords, Social Security numbers, etc. If this happens, it's likely you may not be aware of it until you notice unusual transactions on your account.
To reduce the risk, you should:
- Install and / or update anti-virus and personal firewall software
- Update all virus definitions and run a full scan
- If your system appears to have been compromised, repair it and then change your password again
- Check your other accounts! The phishers may have helped themselves to many different accounts: ebay account, Paypal, e-mail ISP, online accounts, online trading accounts and other e-commerce accounts, and everything else for which you use onlineasswords.
If you have given out your Personal Identification information
Contact the three major credit reporting agencies- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion and do the following:
- Request that the agencies place a fraud alert and a victim's statement in your file
- Request a free copy of your credit report to check whether any accounts were opened.
- Request the agencies remove inquiries and / or fraudulent accounts resulting from the theft.
Major Credit Bureaus web sites: