Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information fraudulently. They may use your name or Social Security number to apply for credit or service, or your personal finance information such as your bank account PIN or credit card numbers for purchases.
According to the Fair Trade Commission, people generally do not become aware of identity theft until about 14 months after the crime has occurred. Meanwhile, debts are accruing in your name and damaging your credit history. In the aftermath, you could be facing a number of problems, not the least of which would be a loss of your time and money to set the record straight.
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of underhanded methods to gain access to your personal information. It’s important to know what you’re up against:
• Search through your trash for pertinent financial information such as credit card, savings, and checking account numbers.
• Steal credit or debit card numbers by capturing information in a data storage device that saves your credit card numbers or PIN.
• Go through your mail searching for bank and credit card statements, new checks, or tax information.
• Steal your wallet or your purse searching for credit cards, or your Social Security card.
• Complete a “Change of Address” form to divert your mail to another location.
• Hack into your computer system to steal your personal information.
Seven Preventative Measures
Here are seven ways to manage your personal information wisely and minimize the risks of identity theft:
1. Before you reveal any personal information such as your Social Security number or PIN, find out whether it will be shared with other institutions or organizations.
2. Pay attention to billing cycles; contact the creditor if a bill does not arrive on time.
3. Guard your mail by depositing outgoing mail in a post office collection box or at your local post office. Remove mail from your mailbox as soon as it has been delivered. If you are planning to be away from home, call the US Postal Service (800) 275-8777 to ask for a vacation hold.
4. Do not give out personal information over the telephone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know them to be secure. Look for Internet secure sites with security postings such as VeriSign©.
5. Protect any personal information in your home. Shred documents such as charge receipts, copies of credit offers and applications, insurance forms, discarded bank checks, or credit card statements.
6. Never carry your Social Security card; leave it in a secure place at home. Do not give out your number unless you are convinced it is absolutely necessary.
Disputing Identity Theft Errors
In some cases, you may need to dispute identity theft errors on your credit report. If you have been victim of identity theft, you should immediately take the following steps:
1. Contact the fraud department of each of the three major credit bureaus and tell them that you are an identity theft victim. Request that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file along with a statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts.
2. Contact your creditors to find out about any accounts that have been opened fraudulently, including credit card, phone, and utility companies. Close any accounts that have been fraudulently opened and open new accounts using new PIN numbers.
3. File a report with the police in the community where the identity theft occurred. Be sure to outline specific details and send a copy of the report to your creditors.
Fair Isaac Contact Information:
901 Marquette Ave, Suite 3200
Minneapolis, MN 55402