ou need to safeguard all your bank account numbers to prevent becoming the victim of identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to apply for loans, credit cards, or leases. The criminal destroys your good credit record. According to the U.S. Justice Department losses to consumers and institutions due to identity theft total $50 billion per year and affect 15 million people. The average loss is $3,500 to each victim. These numbers are growing every year!
How the thief gets your personal information
- Stealing your purse or wallet.
- Pilfering information such as bank statements and pre-approved credit card applications from your mailbox.
- Posing as your employer, loan officer or landlord to get your credit reports.
- Going through trash for credit card carbons or loan applications.
- Watching transactions at automated teller machines to capture your PIN.
How to minimize your risk
- Never carry your SSN in your wallet or purse or printed on checks.
- Guard your SSN closely, giving it out only to official authorities or businesses you trust. Some firms will accept another identifier if you ask.
- Be careful how you dispose of documents. Ideally, shred them.
- Exercise your right to stop your credit header being sold, which will also stop pre-approved offers of credit. Call the credit bureau's special toll free line (888) 567-8688.
Should you become a victim, see below for where to go for help. Here are some other tips.
- Obtain a copy of the fraudulent contract or application. This is the key document that proves the person who signed it isn't you. Finding the company that issued it and the right person to talk to isn't always easy.
- Try to get past the gatekeepers to someone who is in charge.
- Contact the credit bureaus that hold your credit report. Ask them to log the theft and remove the bad accounts from your report, giving as much proof as possible. You may meet difficulties, but by law, the bureau must correct any wrong information.
- Have a "fraud alert" put on your credit report. This should alert credit grantors to check a new application.
- Keep meticulous dated records of your attempts to clean the record - letters, phone calls, and what were said.
- Never agree to pay any portion of the debt just to get the debt collectors off your back. The balance will stay on your record.
- Remember you are not a victim; do not let these people intimidate you. Contact the police to fight back.
Where to go for help
To report identity theft and get help on how to restore your credit, contact: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580, or call, toll free (877) 382-4357. Or go online www.consumer.gov/idtheft for online information.
To report ID theft, get your credit record (free for fraud victims) and to have it corrected, contact all of these agencies:
Annual Credit Report
Trans Union Fraud Victim Assistance Dept.
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-2104
Equifax Credit Information Services
P.O. Box 105496
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5496