Identity theft has become one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. A person can use your Social Security number, birth date or driverís license number to impersonate you, spending as much of your money as they can, in as short a time as possible before moving on to someone elseís name and account information.
The victims of these crimes spend months and even years trying to repair their good name and credit. They will have difficulty writing checks, obtaining loans, renting apartments and even obtaining employment. To protect yourself from being a victim of identity-theft, please take the following precautions:
Make It Difficult, Shred Your Trash
Because people are searching for your valuable personal information in trash dumpsters, destroy (cross cut shred or burn) papers with personal information that you donít need. For example:
Credit-card and ATM receipts
Health insurance benefit statements (these contain social security numbers)
Pre-approved credit card offers
Protect Your Personal Information
Do not give out personal information unless you have initiated the contact or know whom youíre dealing with and exactly how the information will be used.
Keep confidential information in a locked, secure area. Donít carry anything with you that you donít want to share with a pickpocket, for example, donít carry extra credit cards or birth certificates.
Guard your Social Security number. Do not carry your Social Security card with you, and donít give it out unless absolutely necessary. Remove your Social Security Number from your driverís license and/or checks. If an identity thief has your Social Security Number the sky is the limit.
Donít carry health insurance cards. Instead, carry photocopies with the ID numbers blacked out.
Never give your Social Security number or personal information over a cordless phone (higher megahertz are more secure), or cell phone.
Photocopy both sides of every card you carry in your wallet or purse, so you have a record of each account number and telephone numbers to contact in case of loss or theft.
Very common areas to have your wallet or purse stolen from are gyms, hiking spots, golf courses and parking lots. Your wallet or purse is not safe under your seat. Put items in trunk to secure.
Use a secure mailbox to send your mail. Only use the sturdy, locked, heavy gauge metal models that are located in front of the Post Office, or in public places. Put a lock on your mail box.
When you order personal checks, do not have them sent to your home mailbox. Pick them up at the bank.
Add passwords to bank, credit card and utility accounts.
Many credit cards, ATM Cards, telephone calling cards, etc. have passwords to protect you. Avoid using easily available information for your password such as your motherís maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your social security number, your phone number or a series of consecutive numbers. Be original.
Add a firewall (site protection) to your personal computer if you have Internet connection.
Unplug computer from phone line when not in use.
Be On The Look Out
Check your credit report at least once a year.
Watch for fraudulent use of spousesí or dependantsí identification.
Be wary of telephone or door-to-door charities that use high pressure to contribute. Ask for identification and proof of license.
Review home and cell phone bills for unauthorized use.
If an expected bill doesnít arrive, find out why. Someone may have intercepted it.
Your Credit Card
Keep your credit card within your sight when you give it to a store clerk. Donít let anyone walk away with it where you cannot observe what is happening. When you go to a restaurant pay with cash or, consider lowering the credit limit on a credit card that you would use just in restaurants.
Reduce the number of credit cards that you own. Cancel all unused accounts because the account numbers are recorded in your credit report and can be used by identity thieves.
Review your credit card bills promptly and compare your receipts to the bill. Watch for unauthorized purchases. If you find a discrepancy in your billing, write the credit card issuer immediately.
Keep and file charge card receipts. Donít toss them out or leave them in shopping bags.
The New Techniques of Becoming You
Beyond digging in your trash or stealing your credit card, there are new ways that someone can steal your identity:
Someone may be looking over your shoulder at ATM machines, and phone booths to obtain your PIN numbers.
Someone may pose as an employer, rental agent, or loan officer to obtain a copy of your credit report fraudulently.
If You Are a Victim Of Identity Theft
If you suspect that you are the victim of identification theft:
Contact the police immediately and file a report
Notify the Postal Inspector if you suspect mail theft.
Immediately notify all issuers of credit cards, checking and savings accounts, ATM cards, telephone calling cards, video rental cards, library cards, driverís license, Social Security card, etc
Document all contacts, names of people you spoke with, telephone numbers, dates, times, and a summary of the discussion.
Contact the fraud department of each of the three credit reporting agencies to place a temporary 90 day fraud alert on your credit file. As a victim of a fraud, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit file from each of the three credit report agencies. The telephone numbers are:
Trans Union 800-888-4213
File a complaint online at: www.consumer.gov/idtheft
For further information:
Identity Theft Resource Center
Federal Trade Commission
ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name [TEXT] [PDF]
Better Business Bureau
1 (703) 276.0100
Arizona Attorney General