Identity Theft Protection
Despite your best efforts to manage the flow of your personal information or to keep it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to gain access to your data. Some examples are:
- They steal wallets and purses containing your identification and credit/bank cards.
- They steal your mail, including your bank statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks 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 find personal information in your home.
- They use personal information you share on the Internet.
- They scam you, often through email, by posing as legitimate companies or government agencies you do business with.
Identity thieves utilize personal information in a variety of ways:
- They call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, ask to change the mailing address on your credit card account.
- They open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth, and social security number (SSN).
- They establish phone or wireless service in your name.
- They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
- They file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred under your name, or to avoid eviction.
- They counterfeit checks or debit cards and drain your bank account.
- They purchase vehicles by taking out automobile loans in your name.
- They give your name to the police during an arrest. If they're released from police custody, but don't show up for their court date, an arrest warrant may be issued in your name.
While it is very difficult to prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk by managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue. The following information pertains to ways of minimizing risks:
Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your date of birth, the last four digits of your SSN or a series of consecutive numbers.
If you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home, be sure and secure all confidential information.
Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that records are kept in a secure location. Be concerned also about the disposal procedures for those records.
Your credit report contains information on where you work and live, the credit accounts that have been opened in your name, how you pay your bills and whether you’ve been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy. It is important to order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year:
Equifax—1-800-685-1111 (to order the report)
1-800-525-6285 (to report fraud)
Experian—1-888-397-3742 (to order the report)
1-888-397-3742 (to report fraud)
TransUnion—1-800-888-4213 (to order the report)
1-800-680-7289 (to report fraud)
By checking your report regularly, you can catch mistakes and fraud before they wreak havoc on your personal finances. Knowing what is in your credit report allows you to fix problems before they jeopardize a major financial transaction.
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, enacted by Congress in October 1998 is the federal law making identity theft a crime.
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act makes it a federal crime when someone “knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
Under the Act, a name or SSN is considered a means of identification. So is a credit card number or cellular telephone electronic serial number, which identifies a specific individual. Violations of the act are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S.S.S., the F.B.I., US Postal Inspection Service and Office of the Inspector General. Federal identity theft cases are prosecuted by the US Department of Justice. In most cases, a conviction for identity theft carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment, a fine and forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the crime. Many states have passed laws related to identity theft; Alabama's law can be located in:
Alabama Code 13A-8-190 through 201.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) maintains the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse—the federal government’s identity theft complaint database—and provides information to identity theft victims. The FTC collects complaints from identity theft victims and shares their information with law enforcement agencies nationwide. This information also may be shared with other government agencies, consumer reporting agencies and companies where the fraud was perpetrated to help resolve identity theft–related problems.
If you become a victim of identity theft, it is suggested that you adhere to the following guidelines:
- Notify your local law enforcement agency. Complete a police incident report and send a copy to your financial institution as soon as possible. If obtaining a copy of the report is not possible, at least obtain the complaint number related to the report.
- Notify all three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—of the circumstances.
- Notify the fraud department at each creditor, bank, or utility/service that provided the identity thief with unauthorized credit, goods or services. NOTE: Be sure and complete the ID Theft Affidavit.
- Notify the FTC.