Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. Credit card numbers, driver's license numbers, social security numbers, and other personal identification can net criminals thousands of dollars in a very short period of time.
While the financial loss incurred by this type of crime is not always incurred by the consumer, it can significantly traumatize the victim and take them months if not years to restore their credit and good name, and may keep them from being able to cash checks, obtain loans, or event rent an apartment.
Ten Ways to Protect Yourself
You can minimize the risk of being victimized by taking the following steps:
- Never leave your purse or wallet unattended at work, at restaurants, at health fitness clubs, in your shopping cart, at church, at parties, etc. Never leave your purse or wallet in open view in your car, even when locked.
- Destroy all checks immediately when you close a checking account. Destroy or keep in a secure place any courtesy checks that your bank or credit card company may mail you.
- Reconcile your check and credit card statements in a timely fashion and challenge any purchases you did not make.
- Limit the number of credit cards you have and cancel any inactive accounts.
- Never give any credit card, bank or social security information to anyone over the telephone.
- Minimize exposure of your social security and credit card numbers. If the numbers are requested for check cashing purposes, ask if the business has alternative options such as a check cashing card.
- Safeguard your credit and debit and ATM card receipts and shred them before disposing of them.
- Scrutinize your utility and subscription bills to make sure the charges are yours.
- Memorize your passwords and personal identification (PIN) numbers. Keep your PIN numbers somewhere that only you know about, anywhere but with your credit cards. Don't give out your PIN. Keeping your numbers to yourself is the best way to keep your credit cards secure.
- Keep a list of, or photocopy, all credit and identification cards you carry with you, including front and back, so that you can quickly call the issuers to inform them about missing or stolen cards.
If You Are the Victim of Identity Theft
- Report the incident to the police immediately. If you know where your identification was stolen, that would be the jurisdiction you would have to report it to. Insist you be given a complaint number.
- Report all stolen cards to the issuers immediately and request new cards be issued. Follow up with written notification.
- Notify your bank in the event your checks were stolen and request that your account be closed.
- In order to prove your innocence, be prepared to fill out affidavits of forgeries for banks, credit grantors and recipients of stolen checks. They are joint victims with you and may suffer a financial loss.
- Contact the social security office if someone is using your social security number to establish credit or new accounts.
- All three major credit reporting agencies in the United States have Fraud Assistance programs, with toll-free telephone numbers. Report the theft of your credit cards and request that your account be flagged to all three of the following companies:
Equifax Credit Information Services
Consumer Fraud Division
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
Fraud Victim Assistance
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634
Experian/TRW National Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013
Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Hotline