The Facts on Identity Theft
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your bank account number, Social Security number, credit card, or other personal information for his or her own ends. It can be months before the theft has been discovered.
What does it mean?
Nearly 10 million people fall victim to identity theft each year, costing consumers $5 billion in out-of-pocket losses and businesses $48 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The key findings of 2007 report on Identity Fraud, published by Javelin Strategy & Research and the Better Business Bureau noted:
On average, victims spend 25 hours resolving credit, financial and other problems caused by identity theft. (some estimate this number is significantly higher)
The total fraud amount per victim was $5,720 in 2007.
The total number of US adult victims of identity fraud was 8.4 million in 2007.
How does it happens?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has listed the following ways that imposters can get your personal information and take over your identity:
They steal your wallet and purse containing your identification and credit and bank cards.
They steal your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards, and tax information.
They complete a “change of address” form to divert your mail to another location.
They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data in a practice known as “dumpster diving.”
They fraudulently obtain your credit card report by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legitimate need for, and a legal right to the information.
They get your business or personnel records at work.
They find personal information in your home.
They use personal information you share on the Internet.
They buy your personal information from “inside” sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information about you that appears on an application for goods, services, or credit.
How Is Your Stolen Identity Used?
The crooks call your credit card user and, pretending to be you, ask to change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize that there is a problem.
Thieves can also open a new credit card account using your name, date of birth, and your social security number. When they use the credit card and don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
Other scenarios include: establishing a phone or wireless service in your name; opening a bank account in your name and writing bad checks on it; file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred under your name, or to avoid eviction; counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account; and buy cars buy taking out auto loans in your name.
How Can You Minimize the Risk?
Sign your credit cards upon receipt. Only carry cards that you need. Do not carry your Social Security card. Never write your PIN or Social Security number on anything you are going to throw away. Shred documents containing your Social Security number.
Do not release personal information such as your Social Security or bank account number over the phone unless you made the phone call and understand why the information is necessary.
Detect unauthorized activity by reviewing bank account and credit card statements and using online account access.
Use e-mail-based account "alerts" to monitor transfers, payments, low balances and withdrawals.
Obtain and review your credit report at least annually to ensure the material is correct.
Sign up to receive electronic bills and statements and, whenever possible select the option to turn off the paper copy of these sensitive documents.
Be aware of credit card billing cycles. If you do not receive a bill on time, contact the company. A thief charging purchases to your account would likely change your billing address, so it takes you longer to discover the fraud.
What If You are Victimized?
If a credit card is stolen, close the account immediately. Notify the three main credit bureaus. Put passwords (not your mother's maiden name) on any new accounts. File a report with the police in the community where the theft occurred. Keep a copy of the report in case it is needed later. If your Social Security number is being used fraudulently, notify the Social Security Administration.
Federal Trade Commission:
FTC web site
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20580
To report identity theft online: See the FTC identity theft online complaint form
Main Credit Reporting Bureaus:
Equifax fraud division
P.O. Box 740250
Atlanta, GA 30374
Experian fraud division
P.O. Box 1017
Allen, TX 75013
Trans Union fraud division
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634
Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General: