What is Identity Theft?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. Hundreds of thousands of cases continue to be reported each year with no certain slow down in the future.
There are several things that you can do to protect your identity. Unfortunately there is no 100% guard against protecting yourself, but there are ways to make it more difficult for a thief to steal your information.
How can you protect yourself?
- Review your credit report at least once a year. Look for any discrepancies or accounts that may not be yours. (See credit reporting agencies listing in Related Links section.)
- Consider opting out of unsolicited credit card offers. To do this call 1-888-567-8688.
- Be wary of "shoulder surfers." These are individuals who try to get close enough to you to obtain your PIN numbers.
- Monitor your bank and other statements carefully. Make note of the times that you receive your bills, so you'll know if a bill is missing or unauthorized purchases have been made.
- Limit the number of credit cards that you carry with you.
- Buy a shredder ... and use it! Shred anything with personal information on it such as old receipts, old bank statements, everyday bills, pre-approved credit card offers, medical statements and documents with personal information on it.
- Keep track of your credit card receipts and store them in a safe place until your credit card statement arrives for you to reconcile.
- Be careful with what you do with your credit card statements, especially since many still have full account numbers and expiration dates listed on them.
- When completing credit applications be sure to fill all applications out completely and consistently. Every bill that you receive should be addressed exactly the same.
- Do not have your Social Security number printed on your checks.
- Do not carry your Social Security card with you in your purse or wallet.
- Never leave paid bills in your mailbox for the carrier to pick up. Drop them off at a post office box.
- Make sure any site you do business with has a secure site. You'll know this if the Web page you're on begins with "https" instead of "http".
- If you're shopping online look for the Verisign Certificate, the Trust-e symbol, the Better Business Bureau symbol or a certificate of similar type indicating that the business has been audited and deemed trustworthy.
- If you are moving, contact your creditors immediately to get your information updated.
- Never give your credit card or social security number to anyone by telephone even if you made the call, unless you can positively verify that the individual or caller is legitimate.
What can you do if you become a victim of identity theft?
- Contact the fraud departments of all the major credit bureaus and ask that a "fraud alert" be placed on your file and that no credit be granted without your permission. Request a copy of your credit report from each of the bureaus; they must give you a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of fraud. You should request this in writing also.
- You will automatically receive a free credit report from each of the three agencies and you will be opted out of pre-approved credit card and insurance offers once the credit-reporting agencies have been notified.
- After you receive your report be sure to make note of the number assigned to your account. This will be helpful in communications with the credit-reporting agencies.
- Write a victim statement explaining what happened to you and ask for it to be added to your file at each credit-reporting agency.
- Contact creditors where any of your accounts have been tampered with or an account opened without your knowledge. Put your complaint in writing.
- Complete the Identity Theft Affidavit and make copies to send to your creditors. http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/affidavit.pdf
- File a police report. Be sure to get a copy of the report in case creditors need proof of the crime later.
- Change all of your account passwords.
- You may need to change your driver's license number if someone is using yours as an ID.
- If your SSN has been used fraudulently, notify the Office of the Inspector General. Be sure to ask for a copy of your "Personal Earnings and Benefits Statements," and check for accuracy. http://oig.hhs.gov/hotline.html
- For more information read the guide by the Federal Trade Commission, "When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name."
College Students Beware! When it comes to money and privacy college students act carelessly. In a survey by Impulse Research for Chubb Group Insurance Companies the following results were discovered:
- Only 30% of college students reconcile their credit card and bank statements, if ever.
- Forty-nine percent of college students receive credit card applications on a regular basis; 30% actually throw them out without destroying them.
- Forty-eight percent have grades posted by Social Security numbers.
- Some things you can do as a college student to protect yourself include destroying any pre-approved applications for credit. Shred them; by-pass those tables with the "Get A FREE T-Shirt" when you complete a credit application; don't leave your mail around for anyone to steal; and always keep close tabs on the use of your Social Security number. Speak with the university if they require you to use your Social Security number as your Student ID. See if they can generate a random number for you. And, when grades are posted, see if your professor can also use a random number for you.
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