Identity theft is becoming more and more common, more common than one would think. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about twelve million (12,000,000) people have their identity stolen annually, resulting in financial losses totaling twenty-five billion ($25,000,000,000.00). Identity theft includes the compromising of one’s existing credit cards, existing bank accounts and personal information to obtain credit and establish bank accounts. To protect yourself from potential identity theft, you need to be very cautious and protective of your personal information. This article will provide general safeguards to follow to protect yourself and your information as well as provide you with steps to take in the unfortunate event that your identity or information is compromised.
Protecting your personal information and accounts is vital. Never carry your Social Security Card with you. Every credit card, bank account and phone account should be password protected or assigned a PIN (personal identification number). When selecting a password or PIN, avoid using information such as your mother’s maiden name, your social security number, birthdates, phone numbers, etc. Be sure to secure your personal information in your home, away from roommates, household employees and other outside contracted parties. Never give personal information on the phone, internet or mail if you have not initiated the contact. Protect your incoming and outgoing mail by immediately collecting your mail when it arrives and mailing your letters at the post office or post office box rather than from your home mailbox. Shred any documents such as charge receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, medical statements, checks, bank statements, expired credit cards, and credit offers you receive in the mail. If you use the internet, protect your computers with virus protection and firewall software. When purchasing items through the internet, be sure to use a secure web browser. If you own a laptop or mobile device, avoid storing personal and financial information on those devices. However, if it is necessary to store information on these devices, be sure to protect those devices with strong passwords to make it difficult for someone to access your information in the event that the device is lost or stolen.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR IDENTITY WAS STOLEN
If your identity is stolen, be sure to report the fraud by filing a report with your local police department. In addition, report the fraud by calling the security or fraud department of each your credit card companies. It is also important to also notify the credit card companies in writing via certified mail with return receipt requested. Be sure to save your correspondence and never send any originals of any pertinent documents such as police reports.
If your bank checks are stolen or if someone opens up a bank account in your name, notify the bank immediately to put stop payments on the missing checks and cancel any existing accounts. You should also contact the major check verification companies: TeleCheck, Certegy, Inc. and International Check Services and call SCAN at (800) 262-7771 to find out if anyone is writing bad checks in your name.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. You can also place a security freeze on your credit report which prevents third parties from accessing your credit report without your express authorization.
WARNING SIGNS OF IDENTITY THEFT
Be sure to obtain and review your credit reports regularly. If there are accounts that were not opened up by you, it is likely that you are a victim of identity theft. You can download your free credit reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you notice that you are no longer receiving your bills, statements or other mail, follow up with your creditors to see if someone has taken over your account by changing your billing address. If you receive a credit card that you did not apply for, immediately contact that credit card company to inquire about how the card was applied for. If you are being denied credit or being offered credit with less favorable terms than usual, and likewise, if you begin to get calls or letters from debt collectors for accounts that you are not aware of you may be a victim of identity theft. If you think your identity has been stolen, you may want to call a consumer law attorney for legal advice.
RESOURCES IF YOUR IDENTITY IS STOLEN
Equifax: (800) 525-6285 or www.equifax.com
Experian: (888) 397-3742 or www.experian.com
Trans Union (800) 680-7289 or www.transunion.com
Free Credit Reports: www.annualcreditreport.com
TeleCheck: (800) 710-9898
Certegy, Inc.: (800) 437-5120
International Check Services: (800) 631-9656
Check Systems: (800) 428-9623
Office of the Illinois Attorney General Identity Theft Hotline: (866) 999-5630