How can someone steal your identity?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years – and their hard-earned money – cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.
If you think your identity has been stolen, here’s what to do now:
Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file. The fraud alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts, and all three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge.
Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
File a police report with the Amherst Police Department. Get a copy of the report from our records bureau to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
How can I prevent identity theft from happening to me?
As with any crime, you can’t guarantee that you will never be a victim, but you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information widely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or are sure you know who you’re dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs) and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother’s maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Check an organization’s website by typing its URL in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting it. Many companies post scam alerts when their name is used improperly. Or call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book.
- Don’t carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.
- Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.
- Guard your mail and trash from theft:
- Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 or your local post office to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
- To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you’re discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. If you do not use the pre-screened credit card offers you receive in the mail, you can opt out by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567- 8688). Please note that you will be asked for your Social Security number in order for the credit bureaus to identify your file so that they can remove you from their lists and you still may receive some credit offers because some companies use different lists from the credit bureaus’ lists.
- Carry only the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you’ll actually need.
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still have a line on their applications for your mother’s maiden name. Use a password instead.
- Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctor’s offices or other institutions that collect personally identifying information from you. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with anyone else. If so, ask if you can keep your information confidential.
- Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. If your state uses your SSN as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your SSN as your account number.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- Be wary of promotional scams. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.
- Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work as well as any copies you may keep of administrative forms that contain your sensitive
- When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, rather than having them sent to your home mailbox.
- If you’re being deployed in the military, place an active duty alert.
I have a computer and use the Internet. What should I be concerned about?
If you’re storing personal information such as SSNs, financial records, tax returns, birth dates, or bank account numbers in your computer, the following tips can help you keep your computer and your personal information safe from intruders:
- Virus protection software should be updated regularly, and patches for your operating system and other software programs should be installed to protect against intrusions and infections that can lead to the compromise of your computer files or passwords. Do not open files sent to you by strangers, or click on hyperlinks or download programs from people you don’t know. Be careful about using file‑sharing programs. Opening a file could expose your system to a computer virus or a program known as Aspyware,@ which could capture your passwords or any other information as you type it into your keyboard.
- Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high‑speed Internet connection like cable, DSL or T‑1 that leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. The firewall program will allow you to stop uninvited access to your computer. Without it, hackers can take over your computer, access the personal information stored on it, or use it to commit other crimes.
- Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. If you do, use a strong password B a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. A good way to create a strong password is to think of a memorable phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password, converting some letters into numbers that resemble letters. For example, “I love Felix; he’s a good cat,” would become 1LFHA6C
- Before you dispose of a computer, delete all the personal information it stored. Deleting files using the keyboard or mouse commands or reformatting your hard drive may not be enough because the files may stay on the computer’s hard drive, where they may be retrieved easily. Use a “wipe” utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive
When should I provide my Social Security number?
Your employer and financial institution will likely need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may ask you for your SSN to do a credit check, like when you apply for a car loan. Sometimes, however, they simply want your SSN for general record keeping. If
someone asks for your SSN, ask the following questions:
- Why do you need it?
- How will it be used?
- How do you protect it from being stolen?
- What will happen if I don’t give it to you?
If you don’t provide your SSN, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want. Getting satisfactory answers to your questions, though, will help you to decide whether you want to share your SSN with the business.
For more in-depth information on recovering from identity theft and help with specific problems, read The Federal Trade Commissions periodical on identity theft:
3 MAJOR CREDIT BUREAUS
Equifax – www.equifax.com
To order your report, call: 800-685-1111 or write:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
For Fraud Alerts, call: 800-525-6285 and write:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Hearing impaired call 1-800-255-0056 and ask the operator to call the Auto Disclosure Line at 1-800-685-1111 to request a copy of your report.
Experian – www.experian.com
To order your report, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) or write:
P.O. Box 2002, Allen TX 75013
For Fraud Alerts, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) and write:
P.O. Box 9530, Allen TX 75013
Trans Union – www.transunion.com
To order your report, call: 800-888-4213 or write:
P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022