San Diego, CA. For the second year
in a row, Identity Theft tops the list of consumer
complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) according
to its annual report, detailing consumer complaints about
identity theft, and listing the top 10 fraud complaint
categories reported by consumers. The fallout for victims
ranges from arrest for financial fraud - among other
things, to having your driver s license revoked, to being
sued, your being denied credit, insurance, a job or place
to live. Worse, it can take up to seven, maybe ten years,
just to set your records straight cautions the nonprofit
Institute of Consumer Financial Education (ICFE), a
nonprofit consumer oriented group based in San Diego, CA.
Identity theft and consumer fraud are at the top of the list, accounting for 43 percent of the complaints lodged in the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database. The number of fraud complaints jumped from 220,000 in 2001 to 380,000 in 2002, and the dollar loss consumers attributed to the fraud they reported grew from $160 million in 2001 to $343 million in 2002.
Identity theft happens when an opportunity arises. Thieves are not very particular to one s age either, if there is a credit/debit card number to be had. An alarming twist is parents who are stealing the identity of their underage children for a variety of reasons. Identity theft, including, but not limited to, your Social Security (SS) number, driver s license, bank accounts, PIN numbers, credit/debit card numbers is a relatively quick and easy crime, which often goes unnoticed for months, sometimes up to a year or longer.
It helps to understand prevention better by understanding how Identity Theft is committed. It is simply done by co-opting a name, Social Security number, credit card number, or some other piece of personal information of another individual for the thief s own use. In short, identity theft occurs when someone appropriates personal information without the knowledge of the owner to commit fraud and theft in a variety of ways.
Once identity thieves fake an identity, they:
1) Open new credit card accounts, using another s name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When they use the credit card and don t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts are reported on credit reports.
2) Call credit card issuer(s) and, pretending to be the owner, change the mailing address on credit card accounts. Then, the impostor begins to run up charges on the accounts.
3) Establish cellular phone service.
4) Open a bank account write bad checks on that account.
5) Have utilities, cable TV, Internet connections and telephones installed.
6) File bankruptcy to avoid debts, evictions and foreclosures.
Identity Theft can happen so easily and quickly. You may receive a phone call or an email with bogus promises to get you to reveal your personal information. Whether your information has been has been lost or stolen, or if it has found in your home, purse or wallet, or your information was gotten through your work, or by someone shoulder-surfing at an ATM, or listening to your phone calls or by dumpster diving, stealing your mail and fraudulently obtaining your credit report, you can bet, usually within hours, bad things begin to happen.
Thieves may order expensive monthly cell phone service, apply for other credit cards, get credit lines approved and receive a PIN number from DMV to change your driving record information online, and more, unless you make a few very important telephone calls that will help limit the damage. Because all the bills are being sent to the new address, victims may not immediately realize there's a problem.
When Identity Theft happens, the victims will suffer from ruined credit. They will also be unable to open a checking or savings account, unable to obtain utilities, may be arrested or have their driver s license revoked, they may be denied credit, a job, insurance and a place to live, and may have their wages garnished.
Frequently, the way some people learn their identity has been stolen is from their credit reports, when they see new accounts listed they did not open. Without the monitoring of credit reports, a couple of times a-year, consumers may learn of identity theft only when they are adversely contacted by creditors to make payments on unauthorized debts authorize or they are rejected for a loan.
Steps to take to help protect yourself against Identity Theft.
1) Order credit reports at least twice a-year. This is critical for active credit users.
2) Do not leave personal papers or mail lying around your residence or office.
3) Do not to leave mail to picked up by their postal delivery person in their mailboxes.
4) Have passwords on all of your accounts - avoid the easy ones.
5) Purchase a crosscut paper shredder for all financial records.
6) Clean out wallets and purses and remove anything with a Social Security number on it.
Photocopy the contents of your wallet.
7) Make a list of all bank account numbers, charge/debit cards, stock trading, etc. then add the issuer s toll free phone numbers to the list and keep in a safe place.
8) Keep mail private in a locking mailbox or a PO Box. Avoid leaving mail lying around or pile up while you are away. Have new checks delivered to your bank.
9) Use phones where you cannot be heard. Check for shoulder surfers and don t use cell phones for giving out personal information or ordering on a charge card. Regularly re- view statements and bills for unauthorized use.
10) When using credit/debit cards and bank accounts, do not have your middle initial listed on the cards or checks, however, DO include it as part of your official signature. Hide your cards from view, total all receipts, no blank spaces, keep a copy of the receipts, and review each statement, whether from the bank or a charge card, for accuracy and unauthorized use. Never sign a blank check or charge voucher.
Identity Theft may affect some or all of the following:
IRS, DMV, Passport, SSA, USPS, credit/debit cards, bank accounts, insurance, utilities, the Internet and bankruptcy. It happens to you, here are the steps to take, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
1) File a police report immediately and insist they make a written report.
2) Notify all of your creditors by phone, follow-up with a certified letter.
3) Close all credit/debit accounts, insisting that they are reported as closed at the consumer s request.
4) Have your bank and creditors contact you personally before opening up any new accounts or make any changes and requests for increases in credit lines, etc.
5) Stop payment on checks that may be affected.
6) Get new ATM cards and new PINs.
7) Contact the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs) (Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, Experian: 1-888-397-3742 and Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289). Provide as much information as possible, and ask them to log the identity theft. Place a victim s statement in your credit file. Ask the three CRAs they have a Fraud Alert system. If they do, the alert means a company checking on the credit will be alerted the information was stolen and they should make contact by phone to authorize any new credit. Request a copy of the credit report from each CRA, a free service for victims of identity theft and fraud.
8) Report fraudulent use of a SS number to national fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271,
between 10 A.M. and 4 P. M. (Eastern time).
9) Notify the utilities to watch out for anyone ordering new service in the name of the victim(s).
10) Notify the US Post Office.
11) Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles.
It is important also to keep careful records of everyone spoken with about the theft, noting their names, also the dates and times, their affiliation and what topics were discussed along with the outcome of those conversations.
For more information about protecting against identity theft, visit the U. S. Government s Web site on ID fraud: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft and the National Fraud Information Center at http://www.fraud.org/
To help with the monitoring of credit files, the ICFE is making available free 'credit file request' forms to consumers. Other helpful information on how credit files are created and maintained is also included. Now, if you are unemployed, on welfare, or have been denied credit , or had your identity stolen, your credit report is free, otherwise will cost $8 each, unless you live in a state which mandates a lower cost,
The free 'credit file request' forms have spaces for all the initial information needed by credit reporting agencies to locate your individual credit files. They also include the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the major credit reporting agencies operating in the United States. To obtain the free 'credit file request' forms and other credit file information send a 60 cent stamped, self-addressed envelope to: ICFE Credit File Request Forms, PO Box 34070 San Diego CA 92163-4070.
If you have been the victim of Identity Theft or if you have discovered mistakes in your credit files, the ICFE also publishes a "Do-It-Yourself Credit File Correction Guide, still available for only $10. Included are step-by-step instructions, answers to the most often asked questions, consumer credit rights, sample letters to use when communicating with the various credit reporting agencies about credit file questions and difficulties and much more.
Send $10 (+ $2 postage) to: ICFE Credit File Guide U.S. PO Box 34070, San Diego, CA 92163. Visa/MasterCard orders please call 619-239-1401. Learn more about the ICFE and the "Do-It-Yourself Credit File Correction Guide" by visiting the ICFE's web site at: