Identity theft is a serious crime and it is on the rise. Identity theft is often thought of as an Internet crime but, you can be victimized by ID theft in many other ways.
What Is Identity Theft and How Does it Occur?
Identity theft is when a person wrongfully obtains your personal information and uses it to commit fraud or steal money. Identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal personal information. These methods can range from robbery of personal items (such as a wallet, pocket book or personal computer) to very sophisticated high tech assaults and attacks. Some of the techniques used today include:
Phishing: spam or pop-up messages that appear to be from a trusted company or financial institution, when in fact they are not, and aim to get people to reveal personal information.
Spear Phishing: a fraudulent email that targets a specific organization, seeking unauthorized access to confidential data.
Pharming: redirecting people to a fake website.
Skimming: credit and debit card numbers are stolen using a special storage device when processing a card.
Pretexting: using false pretenses to obtain personal information.
Address Change: billing statements are diverted to another location by completing a change of address form.
Dumpster Diving: refers to rummaging through trash looking for items that may contain personal information such as bills or other documents.
Businesses and Individuals Working Together
Although financial institutions and credit card companies have numerous security standards and protocols in place to detect and defend against identity theft, there are numerous steps individuals can take to minimize risk, as well. Make it a habit to monitor your checking and credit card accounts and check monthly bills and online accounts for suspicious transactions. Check your credit report information annually. The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you access to your credit report for free from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only authorized source for the free annual credit report that's yours by law. Other precautionary steps to prevent ID theft include:
- Do not carry all of your credit cards and IDs with you; leave some in a separate and safe location.
- Never give your credit card number or personal information over the phone, unless you have initiated the call and trust that business or person.
- Protect your computer with Firewalls and Antivirus programs.
- Do not click links in unsolicited e-mails or purchase anything online from unknown sources.
- Do not use passwords that anyone can guess and never write them down or email them.
- Shred documents that contain any personal information before you throw them away.
What to Do If Identity Theft Happens to You
In many cases, a victim of ID theft will not realize they have become a target until after the theft has occurred. If you have reason to believe that you have been a victim of identity theft, there are a number of steps to take to report the crime and restore your credit. File a police report and begin keeping a record with the details of your conversations and copies of all correspondence. Notify creditors and close accounts you know have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Contact your bank and the three major consumer credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) to issue a Fraud Alert. This Alert will inform creditors that you must be contacted and your identity verified before credit is extended or changes made to your accounts. The Federal Trade Commission has a toll-free number, 1-877-IDTHEFT where you can file a report.
Cases of Identity theft are increasing in frequency but there are steps you can take to minimize your chances of becoming a victim. Be aware of the tactics used by identity thieves and what you can do to protect yourself. If you should fall victim, act swiftly in contacting authorities, creditors, and government agencies. For more information and additional resources, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Identity theft is on the rise across the United States. It is increasingly important that you take steps to reduce the risk of becoming an identity theft victim.
There are a number of useful online resources for consumers. One great one is www.ftc.gov/idtheft, a one-stop national reference tool providing detailed information to help you deter, detect, and defend against identity theft. It will also help you address questions like:
- What are the steps I should take if I'm a victim of identity theft?
- What is a fraud alert?
- What is a credit freeze?
- What is an identity theft report?
- What do I do if the police only take reports about identity theft over the Internet or telephone?
- What do I do if the local police won't take a report?
- How do I prove that I'm an identity theft victim?
- Should I apply for a new Social Security number?
To speak to a professional identity theft counselor call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357)
If you believe you have been a victim of Internet fraud or identity theft regarding your debit card or bank accounts or if you notice suspicious or unusual activity on your online banking accounts, or if you need to report fraud immediately, please call (718)358-4400.
If you suspect you might be a victim of identity theft, alert a credit bureau with your concerns and questions immediately.
You can contact the three major credit bureaus listed below to place a fraud alert on your credit file. You also can order a credit report to identify any unauthorized activity.
- Equifax: 1 (866) 493-9788
- Experian: 1 (888) 397-3742
- Trans Union: 1 (800) 680-7289