The ease with which identity theft can be accomplished has made it the fastest growing white collar crime in the United States today. Identity thieves use your personal information, such as Society Security number, birth date, bank information, credit card number, phone number, or any number of other bits of information, in order to commit fraud or theft.
While identity theft is not a violent crime, it is serious. Cleaning up the problems caused by an identity thief can take months or years and cost the victim hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. In some cases victims have been denied credit, turned down for jobs, and, in what some would consider the worst case scenario, arrested for crimes they did not commit.
In order to protect yourself, it is important to take steps to shield your personal information.
HOW DO IDENTITY THIEVES OBTAIN YOUR INFORMATION AND WHAT DO THEY DO WITH IT?
Identity thieves can gain access to your information several different ways. For example:
- They steal your purse or wallet containing your drivers license, credit cards, and/or bank cards.
- They get your information from businesses by stealing from their employer or bribing a dishonest employee who has acess to your information.
- They steal your mail, which could be anything from tax information to preapproved credit cards.
- They sift through your trash or the trash of a business.
- They steal credit and debit card numbers through a process called “skimming”.
- They pose as your employer, landlord, or other person with a legitimate need for your personal information.
- They steal personal information while they are in your home.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it illustrates some of the ways identity thieves gain access to your personal information.
Once identity thieves have your information there are many options available for its use. A few of them are:
- Going on shopping sprees to buy items for their personal use or to sell.
- Changing your mailing address for existing credit accounts so that you do not become aware of the theft.
- Selling your personal and business information to other identity thieves.
- Counterfeiting checks or debit cards in order to empty your personal or business bank accounts.
- Opening new credit or bank accounts.
- Obtaining loans or utility accounts in your name.
- Buying “big ticket” personal items, such as cars, or even real estate in your name.
- Filing bankruptcy in your name in order to escape the debts they have incurred.
- Giving your name to police when they are arrested.
HOW CAN I PREVENT IDENTITY THIEVES FROM OBTAINING MY PERSONAL INFORMATION?
While total prevention is probably not possible, there are several steps you can take to better protect your personal information from identity thieves. Some of the steps include:
- Order your credit report at least once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus and review them for inaccurate or suspicious material.
To Order Your Credit Reports:
Equifax – www.equifax.com, 1.800.685.1111
Experian – www.experian.com, 1.888.397.3742
TransUnion – www.transunion.com, 1.800.888.4213
- Place passwords on your credit card, debit cards, bank, phone, or any other utility accounts you have. Avoid using easily available information such as your mother’s maiden name, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your birth date.
- Consider installing a locking mail box.
- Carry only the identification cards, credit cards, and debit cards that you absolutely need.
- Only give your Social Security number when absolutely necessary. Ask if you can use another form of identification.
- Ask that your Social Security number be removed from your driver’s license. You may either have it done for free when it is time to renew your license or pay $5.00 for a replacement or duplicate license. You may also request that your thumb print be placed on your driver’s license as an additional security measure. These requests can be made anywhere you can renew your license.
- Secure all personal information in your home or office.
- Shred any documents containing personal information before throwing it away. This includes receipts you receive when purchasing goods or services.
- Update your computer’s virus software regularly.
- If possible, do not store any financial information on your home computer or laptop.
- Review your credit card and bank statements every month. Look for any charges or withdrawals that you do not recognize.
- Pay attention to the billing cycles of the various credit accounts you use. If they arrive late, or not at all, contact the appropriate creditor.
HOW CAN I TELL IF I’M A VICTIM?
Despite your best efforts, you may still become a victim of identity theft. Determining if you have become a victim usually requires some investigation on your part. Some ways to ascertain whether or not you are a victim include:
- Reviewing your bank and credit accounts for unexplained charges;
- Failing to receive bills or bank statements on a timely basis;
- Receiving calls from creditors regarding accounts you never opened; or
- Denial of credit despite a good credit history or other legitimate reason.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I’M A VICTIM?
- Contact your local police department and file a report of the theft. Obtain a copy of the report for your records and to assist in clearing your name.
- Contact any creditors of the accounts that you believe have been corrupted or fraudulently opened. Ask to speak with the fraud or security department and inform them of the theft. Immediately close any existing accounts and open a new account that is protected by a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN) and/or password. Avoid using information that is easily available for your PIN/password. This includes your birthdate, the last four digits of your SSN, your mother’s maiden name, and a consecutive series of numbers. Follow up the call with a letter.
- Contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus. Inform them that you are an identity theft victim and that you wish to place a fraud alert on your file, as well as a victim’s statement requesting a call to you by the credit bureaus before opening or changing credit accounts. Also, request a copy of your credit report. As a result of this one request, all three major credit bureaus will send you a copy of your credit report. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.consumer.gov/theft or 1.877.438.4338.
- Contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office and request an ID Theft Packet. Complete the ID Theft Affidavit in the packet and return it to the address below so that a criminal investigation may be initiated by the Attorney General’s Office. Mississippi Attorney General’s Office
Consumer Protection Division
Post Office Box 22947
Jackson, MS 39225-2947