Identity theft is defined as another person using your identity to spend money or commit unlawful acts. Identity theft can be in the form of credit card fraud, phone or utility fraud, employment fraud, bank fraud, government benefits fraud, loan fraud, and even medical fraud. The consequences of having your identity stolen can be long-term and devastating to your financial health. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft impacts 10 million people each year and costs businesses $50 billion. Unfortunately, it takes on average 12 months for a person to realize he or she has been a victim of identity theft. Many people don't take the steps necessary to report the incident. We are all at risk. What can you do to protect yourself?
Identity Theft Techniques
Thieves can copy your credit card information using a hand held device called a skimmer. This illegal act is often committed by seemingly innocent people such as waitresses, store clerks, and hotel employees. The skimmer is small enough to fit into a pocket and it only takes a few seconds for someone to swipe your card and record the necessary information. The thief then sells your information to an organized crime ring. They make and sell duplicate credit cards. Skimmer devices can also be placed on ATM machines.
Printed documents that state private information should be shredded before being thrown away. Thieves go through the garbage to find account numbers, Social Security Numbers, and other sensitive information from personal, financial, and medical documents. They use this information to assume or sell your financial identity.
Thieves will dig through your mail box in plain daylight, looking for credit card offers, bank or credit card statements, and personal checks. Identity thieves have been known to reroute mail in an attempt to get their hands on your sensitive information.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, 1 in 8 Americans in the last 5 years have been affected by Internet identity theft. These thieves know how to intercept information sent over unsecured internet connections. Some plant spyware into seemingly innocent downloads.
Thieves send emails and pop-ups that appear to be from banks and credit card companies. They will ask you to click a link and provide information related to your account. They may threaten you with severe consequences if you fail to provide the information. The link will direct you to a site that looks just like the official bank or credit card site, but is actually a fictitious site created to convince you to reveal your personal information.
It is human nature to want to be helpful. Thieves exploit this tendency by calling and pretending to be a legitimate organization that you do business with. They ask for seemingly inconsequential information, like your date of birth. Then they use that information to learn more about you from other sources. It doesn't take long for them to gather all of the information they need to steal and/or sell your identity.
This is the old fashioned way of stealing your identity. Thieves simply look over your shoulder as you complete financial transactions to get your credit card number, account number, and perhaps even your social security number.
Card Verification Value Code Requests
The Card Verification Value Code (CVV) is located on the back of your credit or debit card. It is a three or four digit number that was created to reduce fraud. Merchants and banks ask you to provide the CVV to prove that you have possession of the card before approving a transaction. Unfortunately, identity thieves have found a way to use it too. You may receive a call from someone claiming to be from your bank, saying that they are calling because there is a charge that they believe to be fraudulent. He or she asks you to verify, for security purposes, CVV code on your card.
Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Check your credit reports yearly
The government has entitled you to three free credit reports per year: one from Experian, one from Equifax, and one from TransUnion. The best place to obtain these credit reports is through www.annualcreditreport.com. It is important that you pull all three reports, as some information may only appear on one of the three reports. Once you have your reports, check each and every account and verify that the account belongs to you. Also review the inquiries section. It will reveal if a thief posed as a landlord or employer to gain access to your report.
Opt out of credit report pre-screening
Call 1-888-5OPT-OUT or go to www.optoutprescreen.com. This will greatly reduce the number of pre-approved credit card offers you find in your mailbox. Thieves like to steal this mail and activate pre-approved credit offers under new addresses.
Shred all documents with sensitive information
Don't have a shredder? Save your important documents in a secure location and wait for community shredding events. These events happen fairly often through the spring, summer, and fall. The NYS Division of Consumer Protection often lists tips for proper disposal of documents and affiliated shredding events scheduled in your neighborhood.
Check your bank and credit card statements carefully
If your card number has been sold and is being used by someone else, your statements will show it. Be sure to check for small charges - between three and seven cents. Skimmer thieves will charge your card with these small charges, called "pings", to ensure that your card is still active. Call your credit card company or bank immediately if you notice "pings" on your statement.
Put your garbage out in the morning on pick-up day
Dumpster divers generally dig through trash under the guise of darkness.
Do not provide information over the phone
Never give personal information to someone you don't know and trust over the phone. Tell the caller that you will contact the financial institution, verify the validity of the request, and then give the information if necessary. The caller will attempt to give you a phone number to call, but do not use that number. It could be a number to another thief. Instead, call the phone number listed on your debit or credit card and explain the situation to the Customer Service Representative. He or she should be able to verify the validity of the request. CCCS of Rochester will never contact you and ask for your passwords and account numbers.
Do not click on email or pop-up links asking for personal information
Similar to not providing phone solicited information, you should never supply internet solicited information without first verifying the validity of the request using the same process outlined above.
Protect your mail
If you are going out of town, ask a friend or neighbor to pick up your mail. Or place a hold on your mail at your local Post Office or by visiting the U.S. Post Office website. Do not send anything personal from your home mail box. Raising that red flag is just that - a big red flag for identity thieves. It shouts "Come and get me! No one is home and I'm something important!" If a couple days pass and you haven't gotten mail, don't hesitate to contact the post office to verify that your address has not been changed. Lastly, keep an eye out for missing monthly statements. If you haven't received your bank or credit card statement, it's worth a call to the bank or Credit Card Company.
Protect your Social Security Number
Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. The same goes for your health insurance card and your Medicare card if they contain your SSN. Don't give your Social Security Number to anyone unless you have verified that it's absolutely necessary. You would be surprised how many forms and applications ask for your SSN even though it isn't absolutely necessary. Ask the companies that do require your Social Security Number, how they safeguard your information. What safeguards are in place to ensure that your personal information doesn't end up in the trash?
Turn on the phishing detector on your computer
This will help weed out most phishing attempts. Keep in mind that no one security feature is 100% effective. If you use Firefox, this feature is automatically enabled. If you use Internet Explorer, go to the Tools menu and click on "Phishing Filter". Then select "Turn on Automatic Website Checking" and click OK.
Act Quickly if you are a Victim
File a Police Report
The authorities are often unable to assist you, but you will need a police report or miscellaneous incidents report on record for disputes with lending organizations.
Contact all of your banks and credit cards companies
Let them know you are a victim of identity theft. If you don't already have passwords on your accounts, set them up immediately. Ask the lending institutions to make sure that no information is given and no new accounts are opened without first verifying your identity. You'll probably be liable for $50 or so of the fraudulent charges, but different issuers have different policies. Most creditors promptly issue replacement cards with new account numbers.
Put an extended fraud alert on your Credit Report
Contact one of the three major credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Place an extended fraud alert on all three credit reports. By requesting this through one credit reporting agency, it will be forwarded to the other two so that all three agencies place the alert on your credit file. When you or someone else attempts to open a credit account in your name, increase the credit limit on an existing account, or obtain a new card on an existing account, the lender must contact you by telephone to verify that you authorize the request. This alert is good for seven years, but you will need a police report documenting that you have been a victim of identity theft to activate it.
In September 2008, President Bush signed the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act. This law requires that convicted thieves pay the victim an amount "equal to the value of the time reasonably spent by the victim in an attempt to remediate the intended or actual harm incurred by the victim from the offense". Keep a written record of all conversations you have pertaining to the theft of your identity. Record who you talk to, the date, the duration of the conversation, and what was discussed. There will be a lot of activity initially, so make sure you keep accurate notes. If your case ends up in court, you will be glad you took copious notes. Keep copies of all documents and correspondence and make sure to send all letters return receipt requested.
Contact the Federal Trade Commission
Although the FTC can't prosecute, it is a great resource for additional information and support when tackling an identity theft case. The phone number for is (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338), or follow this link Federal Trade Commission.
Submit an Identity Theft Security Alert
Visit the ChexSystems website to submit an Identity Theft Security Alert. Or call them at (800) 428-9623. Identity thieves may try to open new bank accounts under your name through a bank that you have no relationship with. A ChexSystems security alert will alert any bank opening an account under your name that you are a victim of identity theft. Almost all banks are connected to ChexSystems.