Identity Theft – What it is; How to Prevent it; How to Recover from it
Q: I found several charges on my credit card statement that were not mine. What do I do?
A: You should contact the credit card company immediately and notify them of the disputed charges. For your protection, you may also request a new account number to minimize the chance of future occurrence.
This activity could be a sign that someone has stolen your identity. You should obtain a free copy of your credit report to see if there is any other suspicious items and act on them accordingly.
Q: How do I prevent someone from stealing my identity?
A: Identity theft occurs when someone obtains and uses your personal information to commit financial fraud or theft. Typical information stolen include your name, address, phone number, credit card number, Social Security Number, or computer password(s). Thieves can then use this information to obtain access to your accounts, purchase goods in your name on your credit, obtain loans, obtain government benefits, and similar fraudulent acts.
The best way to avoid identity theft is to be careful who has access to your personal information. Reviews of your bank, credit card and other billing statements as well as your credit reports, will help to minimize the damage if a theft occurs. Thieves obtain personal information in a variety of ways:
- Theft of purses, wallets, or mail;
- Rummaging through your garbage for discarded items containing personal information;
- Obtaining information from businesses or employee files;
- Pretending to be a new creditor asking for information to run your credit report;
- Looking over your shoulder as you use your personal information in a public place, or eavesdropping on your phone calls; and
- Scams of promising that you have won a prize conditioned on your providing personal information.
Some transactions can also put personal information at risk: online banking or shopping without proper firewall protection; discarding pre-printed credit applications or other personal mail without shredding; storing personal information on your smart phone or computer which can be hacked; and providing your full Social Security Number for identification purposes.
Some common sense measures can help increase your identity protection.
a) Keep any notes with your Social Security Number, PINs and passwords very secure.
b) Do not use easy to guess passwords or PINs. Periodically change them.
c) Use firewall and virus protection software and keep it updated with any new versions.
d) Do not open email attachments from unknown senders.
e) Tear up or shred any documents, including pre-printed credit applications and receipts, which contain personal information before you throw them away.
f) Report lost or stolen credit cards or checkbooks immediately.
g) Do not allow mail to remain in your mailbox for an extended period.
Q: Someone has stolen my identity. What should I do?
A: If your identity is stolen, it will take lots of effort and time for you to repair the damage to your credit score and reputation. Meanwhile, you may have your ability to obtain credit greatly restricted. You need to promptly notify all of the appropriate parties to cease any further access to your credit and other accounts.
(1) File a Police Report and send copies of the report to any creditors who require proof.
(2) Change all your passwords and PINs.
(3) File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft
(4) File a complaint with the Post Office if mail fraud was involved.
(5) Contact the 3 major Credit Bureaus to have a fraud alert placed on your credit file. The alert will require creditors to contact you before they open any new credit accounts or modify your existing accounts.
TransUnion: 800-680-7289 Equifax: 800-525-6285
(6) Contact your creditors and notify them of the identity theft and dispute and unauthorized charges.
(7) Close all unauthorized accounts opened in your name by the thief.
(8) Contact your bank and the check verification companies (such as those shown below) if you know that bank accounts have been opened in your name or if somebody may be using stolen checks from your account.
TeleCheck: 800-710-9898 CheckRite: 800-766-2748
(9) Keep good records of all of your efforts and the contacts you make.
If you have any questions regarding the above, please contact me and I will be glad to assist you.