While consumers with high incomes are the preferred prey of identity thieves, every consumer is a potential target. It may be impossible to completely eliminate the chances of becoming a victim of identity theft, but there are however many preventive steps a consumer can take to insure the security of their financial identity.
Keep an eye on your financial information. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. You don’t have to ask all three credit bureaus for your reports at the same time; you can stagger your requests (one every three months) so that you can view your report over the entire year. They are available by calling 877-322-8228 or going to www.annualcreditreport.com. Beware of other companies offering “free credit reports.” You may be signing up for more than just your report and not even realize it, such as a program to monitor your credit or other additional service that will come with a substantial fee.
Review credit card, telephone, cellular phone, and bank statements for irregularities and be aware of your billing cycles. Contact creditors immediately if you find a discrepancy or if you don’t receive a bill when expected. If possible, close all accounts that are no longer needed and ask the company to verify in writing that the account has in fact been closed.
Dispose of your unwanted mail carefully. To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, always thoroughly shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards, credit offers, and anything else that has personal information that you get in the mail.
Keep your information safe. Your Social Security number (SSN) is the key that unlocks your personal identity. Don’t give out personal information (especially your SSN) on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you’re absolutely certain who you are dealing with. Ask your health insurance provider and other companies that may use your SSN as your identification number if they can provide you with a substitute number to use instead. It’s also a good idea to remove extraneous information such as middle name, phone number, SSN, or driver’s license number from your checks.
Sometimes a red-flag on a mailbox can lure thieves into stealing your outgoing mail. To avoid possible theft, send your bill payments or other mail containing personally identifying information from the post office or other public mailbox and not from your home. Also, if you’re planning to be away from your home and can’t pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 or visit them online at https://holdmail.usps.com to request a hold be placed on your mail.
Beware of Phishing. Phishing is a term used when scammers falsify their identity, normally by stating they represent a legitimate corporation or governmental agency. They then try to entice the consumer into revealing their personal information such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, or other sensitive data. Phishing attacks can happen through either the Internet, email, regular mail, or your telephone. Some scammers call from what appears to be a legitimate business and ask you to update your account information. With the help of Internet phones (VoIP), these callers are becoming harder to trace because scammers can alter your caller ID information to give the perception that the call is coming from a legitimate source (known as spoofing). Regardless of what method is used, it is important to remember that you should never reveal your personal information, unless you’re certain of who will be receiving it.
Be cautious when using the Internet. Place passwords on all of your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, and the last four digits of your SSN. Combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters make the strongest passwords. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them all regularly. It’s very important to be cautious with your emails and do not click on any links unless you’re absolutely certain who sent you the email. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities (including keystrokes in the hopes to obtain personal data) on the Internet without your knowledge.
Receiving a lot of unwanted junk-mail (paper and electronic) and pre-approved credit offers can be another way of making you more vulnerable to identity theft. If you want to halt the unnecessary mail, send “opt-out” letters to businesses you have a relationship with (such as your financial institutions, mortgage company, telephone company, charities, credit card companies, etc.) restricting them from selling, renting, distributing, or exchanging your personal information.
The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference and Email Preference Services lets you opt-out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies. The DMA sorts mail preferences based on four subjects: credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers, and other mail. For each of these categories, you can choose whether or not you want to receive mail from companies one at a time, or if you prefer, you can choose to stop receiving mail for all companies you haven’t purchased from or donated to within an entire category. Any choices you make will be effective for three years from the date you make them. Keep in mind that your registration will not stop mailings from organizations that do not use the DMA’s Mail Preference Service. To register with DMA’s Mail Preference Service visit www.dmachoice.org.
The consumer credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion) offer a toll-free number that enables you to “opt-out” of having pre-approved credit offers sent to you for five years. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com for more information. When you call, you’ll be asked for personal information, including your name, address, telephone number, and your SSN. The information you provide is confidential and will be used only to process your request to opt-out of receiving pre-screened offers of credit.
Signs of Identity Theft
Because of the nature of the crime, victims often do not realize their identity has been stolen until they are denied credit, turned down for a job, or sent a bill for purchases they did not make. Other signs of identity theft are:
You are contacted by a collection agency regarding a debt you did not incur.
You see fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit reports (including accounts and personal information like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers).
You get a phone call or letter telling you that you have been approved or denied credit for accounts you never requested.
You receive credit cards that you did not apply for.
You fail to receive bills or other mail on their regular billing cycle.
Checks disappear from your check book.
In most cases, the Truth in Lending Act limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card. The Fair Credit Act establishes procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts. This includes fraudulent charges on accounts.
What if t Happens to Me?
If you are a victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends taking the following four steps as soon as possible. It’s important to remember to keep a record with the details of all your conversations (including who you spoke with and date/time of call) and copies of all correspondence.
1. Place a “fraud alert” on all your credit reports. Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of the consumer credit reporting companies below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Keep in mind there are two kinds of fraud alerts, an initial fraud alerts lasts for 90 days and an extended fraud alert lasts for 7 years. Once you place a fraud alert in your file, you’re entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the consumer credit reporting companies. Once you receive your credit reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain. Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
While a fraud alert can help keep an identity thief from opening new accounts in your name, it’s not a solution to all types of identity theft. It will not protect you from an identity thief using your existing credit cards or other accounts. It also will not protect you from an identity thief using your existing credit cards or other accounts. It also will not protect you from an identity thief opening new accounts in your name that do not require a credit check – such as a telephone, wireless, or bank account. If there’s identity theft already going on when you place the fraud alert, the fraud alert alone won’t stop it. A fraud alert, however, can be extremely useful in stopping identity theft that involves opening a new line of credit.
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374
Experian 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
Attn: Consumer Assistance | P.O. Box 1373, Columbus, OH 43216
Fraud Victim Assistance Division | P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834
2. Close the accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Immediately call and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each company a fraud as taken place and ask them what specific steps are required to begin the dispute/notification process. When you follow up with all of your compromised credit issuers in writing, include copies (NOT originals) of all your supporting documents, and a copy of your ID Theft Affidavit. Send your correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Make sure to keep a copy of all your correspondence and enclosures for future reference.
To help simplify the notification process, the FTC (in conjunction with banks, credit grantors, and consumer advocates) developed an “ID Theft Affidavit”. The purpose of the form was to create a document that can be used by most, if not all of the credit issuers, retailers, banks, and other financial institutions. For a copy of the ID Theft Affidavit log on to www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/resources/forms/affidavit.pdf or call 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
At your request, the Fraud Section of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will place a flag on your Florida Driverís License if you are a victim of identity theft (regardless of whether your license was compromised). If you show your license to law enforcement or a Florida court, having a flag will require them to ask for two or more pieces of identification. To reach the Fraud Section, call (850) 617-2405.
3. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer victim’s complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces. The printed FTC ID Theft Complaint, in conjunction with the police report, can constitute an Identity Theft Report and entitle you to certain protections. This Identity Theft Report can be used to permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report; ensure that debts do not reappear on your credit report; prevent a company from continuing to collect debts that result from identity theft; and place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.
4. File a police report. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Furnish as much documentation as you can to prove your case, including a copy of your complaint to the FTC. Debt collection letters, credit reports, your notarized ID Theft Affidavit, and other evidence of fraudulent activity can help the police file a complete report. Make sure to always maintain a copy of your police report as you will need this with creditors who may want proof of the crime. This report will also help you claim your rights as a victim of identity theft. Under the voluntary “Police Report Initiative,” credit bureaus will automatically block the fraudulent accounts and bad debts from appearing on your credit report, but only if you can give them a copy of the police report.
United States Department of Justice (DOJ)
Provides information on the prevention and prosecution of identity theft.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) for pamphlets that deal with identity theft and privacy of personal information.
Florida Computer Crime Center (FC3)
This site is brought to you by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Computer crime can take many forms. It is an expanding criminal activity, with new methods developing every day. Varieties of computer crime include anything from Internet fraud to viruses to Cyberstalking. Identity Theft Brochure [487 PDF]
Florida's Identity Theft Victim Kit
This kit is designed to help you through the process of resolving your identity theft case and clearing your name. While there are many general identity theft resource guides available, this kit was specifically developed to provide assistance to Floridians who are identity theft victims, as well as individuals in other states who had their personal information fraudulently used in the state of Florida.