WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission. Identity thieves may use consumers’ personal information to open new accounts or access existing accounts and unauthorized charges. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. Identity theft victims should review their credit reports for errors. All credit report errors should be disputed by consumers, in writing, by certified mail.
Identity theft is a serious problem. Identity theft victims waste countless hours and money to repair credit reports and clear their good name. Identity theft victims may be denied credit, employment, housing or insurance because of false information on their credit report. Others may receive collection calls or letters for accounts they did not open.
HOW DO THIEVES STEAL YOUR IDENTITY?
Identity thieves may use low-tech or high-tech means to steal your personal information. For example, thieves may take your mail, wallet, purse or even your trash. Technically skilled identity thieves may use higher-tech means, such as phishing scams by posing as a legitimate business in an email. Another method identity thieves use is called “pre-texting” where the identity thief contacts a potential victim and pretends to be someone else, such as a creditor or government agency, and uses false pretenses to obtain the victim’s personal information.
Identity theft victims often fall prey to family members. In fact, identity theft by family members is very common. The perpetrator may be a sibling, soon to be ex or even a parent. This is known as friendly fraud, but there is nothing friendly about identity theft! Family members often have easy access to personal identifying and financial information. Once detected, victims are often reluctant to file criminal charges against family members.
HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF FROM IDENTITY THEFT?
While there is no fool proof way to prevent identity theft, consumers can take actions to protect their identity and minimize the harm of identity theft. Here are some tips take to prevent identity theft:
1. DETER: Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information.
- Shred financial documents and paperwork. Personal information should always be shredded before you discard it.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security Number on a check. Only give it out only when it is absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
- Don’t freely give out personal identifying information. Do not give out your Social Security number or other personal identifying information, unless you have initiated the contact and know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links in unsolicited emails. Instead, you should type in a web address that you are familiar with. Always use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your computer. You should also keep this software up to date.
- Don’t use an obvious password. You should never use an obvious password such as your date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security Number. Savvy identity thieves are able to gather this information from you.
- Keep your personal information in a safe place. You should always secure your PII whether it’s at home (especially if you have roommates) or if you employ outside help, such as a caretaker.
2. DETECT: Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.
- Be on the lookout for mail and bills that do not arrive when expected. Other examples include unexpected credit cards or account statements, denials of credit for no apparent reason, denials of credit for companies that you did not apply for credit with and calls or letters about purchases you did not make (unauthorized charges).
- You should regularly inspect your credit report. Credit reports have information about you, including what accounts you have in your bill payment history.
- You should review your bank and credit card statements regularly. Look for any charges that you did not make or authorize.
- Request your free credit report from Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. In order for you to get the report, you must ask for it. The best way to ask for your free annual credit report is to download the Annual Credit Report Request Form. Simply print the form, add your personal identifying information, shade in the circles to request your reports from Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, and mail the completed form to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5281.
3. DEFEND: Defend against identity theft as soon as you suspect a problem.
- After you review your credit report and identify fraudulent accounts, you should place a fraud alert on your credit reports. The fraud alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make certain charges to existing accounts. The nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) have toll-free numbers for placing an initial ninety day fraud alert on a credit file. When a fraud alert is added with one credit reporting agency, the FCRA requires the credit reporting agency to notify the other two bureaus about the fraud alert. As a precautionary measure, victims should go ahead and contact the other two bureaus and request a fraud alert.
Add a fraud alert to your credit report by calling:
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Placing a fraud alert on your credit file entitles you to a free credit report. The right to a free report as a fraud victim is in addition to the right to a free annual credit report. In other words, identity theft victims may request a free report due to fraud and later request a free annual credit report, too.
Credit reports should be reviewed very carefully to detect credit report errors. While an address or name variation may seem insignificant, these errors may be red flags for identity theft. Consumers should dispute credit report errors to the credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.
- Close accounts. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. Consumers should call the fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or was changed without permission.
- Download and print the ID Theft Complaint & Affidavit. The completed affidavit should be mailed to the credit reporting agencies with any supporting documentation. Consumers should keep a copy of the completed affidavit and correspondence with the credit bureaus for future reference.
- File a police report. Consumers may file a police report with law enforcement. The police report may be used as an identity theft report and mailed to the credit bureaus in support of disputed information.
- Report your complaint to the CFPB and FTC. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) collect information regarding identity theft. Consumers should contact both agencies and report the identity theft. Click HERE to file a complaint with the CFPB. Click HERE to file a complaint with the FTC.
- CONTACT AN ID THEFT LAWYER. Identity theft victims may contact us for more information about consumers’ rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act by calling 1-800-263-9091 24/7. The case review is free.
The Adkins Firm represents identity theft victims. For a confidential and free legal consultation, call us 24/7 at 1-800-263-9091. If you are a lawyer and you have a client who needs help with an identity theft issue, click HERE for more information about how we can work together to help your client.