Criminals are opportunists who will steal from you, if given the chance. One of the fastest growing areas that thieves have targeted is that of identity theft.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when a person has his or her identifying information stolen by criminals, who then use the victim's information to commit financial fraud and theft. Identity thieves seeks a victim's
- date of birth
- social security number
- account numbers
- any other private information
How identity thieves work
Identity thieves use many different forms of communication to obtain a victim's identifying information. Here are some of the ways these criminals work:
- Stealing mail from your mailbox, especially if the mail is an incoming or outgoing bill with identifying information
- Pretending to be someone on the phone from a company or store who needs a Social Security number, a credit card number, or even just the three- or four-digit security code on the back of your credit card
- Sending e-mails with official looking logos and names of real organizations, such as banks, and asking for identifying information to be sent back immediately
- Using your social security number to obtain employment
If you suspect identity theft
Some of the warning signs of identity theft
- You are receiving calls from a debt collection agency about debts you didn't incur
- Bills and accounts statements are not being received in the mail
- New accounts are being opened in your name that you haven't opened
- You are turned down for a mortgage, a loan, or even a credit card because of your credit report showing debts you did not take out
- You receive a letter from the IRS stating you owe taxes on unreported income.
Fighting identity theft
There are things you can do to prevent identity theft.
First is to keep track of all your financial information, including maintaining control over your credit cards, bank information, and other personal information.
Do not share your personal identification numbers (PINs) with other persons, and do not leave this information in written form anywhere. If this information is stored on your computer, be sure and protect the file so it cannot be easily obtained.
If you pay your bills by mailing a check with the statement, do not put these bills in your mailbox. Carry them directly to the post office or to an official post office mailbox. Grocery stores nearly always have a mailbox outside their locations.
Monitor your credit report. A free copy of your credit report can be obtained once a year from each of the major credit-reporting companies. If you rotate your requests among the companies, you can get a free report quarterly.
If identify theft occurs, immediately notify your financial institution and any credit card company, if necessary.
Make a report of the identity theft to the police department.
You may also need to make a report to the Internal Revenue Service and/or the Federal Trade Commission
Reporting to the police
It is important to make a report of the identify theft to the police. Chances are good that you are not the only victim of the identity thief who stole your information.
The police often work with the fraud units of major financial institution and credit card companies to track down identity thieves. Your help and cooperation increase the likelihood that the criminals will be caught and charged with their crimes.
For more detailed information, contact the following organizations:
The Federal Trade Commission maintains a website about identify theft. You can find this website by clinking the link at above right column or going to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/