Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in our country today. Each year more than 10 million Americans become victims of identity theft, a crime that cost them roughly $5 billion dollars. The identity thief can inflict substantial damage on the victim’s assets, credit, and reputation without the victim even being aware of the crime.
Identity theft occurs when a person uses the identification of another person to commit a fraud, theft, or deception, typically for economic gain. By wrongfully acquiring another’s personal data, such as, name, address, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, bank account, passwords, PIN codes, and credit card numbers, impostors use this information in a variety of ways.
With enough identifying information about an individual, a criminal can take over that individual's identity to conduct a wide range of crimes.
- False applications for loans and credit cards,
- Fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts,
- Fraudulent use of telephone calling cards or online accounts, or
- Obtaining other goods or privileges which the criminal might be denied if he were to use his real name
A good way to prevent identity theft is to be careful with your personal information and to shred documents that have this personal information. The county provides a list of paper-shredding services to residents.
What Can You Do If You've Become a Victim of Identity Theft?
- Call the companies where you know the fraud occurred.
- Place a fraud alert and get your credit reports.
- Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
- You may choose to file a report with your local police department.
Data Breach? Lost Info?
Did you get a notice that says a company lost your personal information in a data breach? Did you lose your wallet? Or learn that an online account was hacked? Here are steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft.
- Get a copy of your credit report. Get your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian and Transunion. Check for any accounts or charges you don’t recognize.
- Consider placing a free credit freeze.
- A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. If you place a freeze, be ready to take a few extra steps the next time you apply for a new credit card or cell phone – or any service that requires a credit check.
- If you decide not to place a credit freeze, at least consider placing a fraud alert.
- Try to file your taxes early — before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
- Don’t believe anyone who calls and says you’ll be arrested unless you pay for taxes or debt — even if they have part or all of your Social Security number, or they say they’re from the IRS.
- Continue to check your credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can order a free report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus once a year.
Protect Yourself from Identity Theft!
Find out how to protect yourself from identity theft the next time you write checks or order checks. What to do if your wallet is lost or stolen.
The next time you order checks, have only your first initial and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
When writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts do not put the complete account number on the "for" line, instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the channels won't have access to it.
Put your work phone number on your checks (instead of your home number). Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks. You can always write it on later if you need to, but if it's pre-printed anyone can have access to it.
Photocopy the important documents in your wallet. Remember to copy both sides of each license, credit card, etc. Put the copies in a safe place and you'll know what you had in your wallet if it ever gets stolen. You will also have all your account numbers and the customer service phone numbers you need to call so you can cancel your cards.
If your wallet is lost or stolen, file a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where you think the wallet vanished. This proves to credit providers that you were diligent.
Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place an alert on your name and social security number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and they must contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
Experian: 888-EXPERIAN 1(888)397-3742