Grand Theft Identity

Date Posted: 8/4/2013 1
Author: Bryan Dunn
Grand Theft Identity

Identity theft is the fastest growing white-collar crime in the United States. The time saving conveniences we enjoy, such as using multiple credit and bank cards or shopping on-line from home rather fighting the traffic and parking at the mall, put us at risk of a most personal theft – our identity, our credibility and our reputation. Although a victim of identity theft can expect to spend an average of $422 out of pocket as well as 40 hours of time, it is not unusual for a case to take more than 600 hours to resolve and $1500 out of pocket for expenses. Aside from time and money, a victim’s credit can be damaged resulting in rejected loads, refused education and housing, and even suspended licenses and arrest for crimes they didn’t commit. It can often times take years to get a victim’s record made whole again. As if this isn’t painful enough, 63% of identity fraud victims are victimized repeatedly. According to the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, identity theft has grown from about 10,000 cases reported in the U.S. in 1995. For the 12th year in a row, identity theft complaints were 1st on the “top consumer complaints” list. Of more than 1.8 million complaints filed in 2011, 279,156 or 15 percent, were identity theft complaints. Although Washington State passed some of the toughest legislation in 2001, the bottom line is that jurisdiction resides only where either the victim resides, or where any part of the crime was taken place at the time the crime occurred.

Knowing what identity theft is, how thieves obtain and use personal information can help you to protect yourself.

• What Makes Up Your Identity?
Your Social Security Number is key in identity theft. It is listed on your Social Security card, Medicare card, and military identification card. Thieves will also use your name & maiden name, date of birth, home address, bank account and/or credit card numbers, along with any other identifying information, such as account and PIN (personal identification) numbers. Protect yourself by carrying only the cards you really need. Never carry your social security card in your wallet or purse unless it is absolutely necessary. Be certain it is not listed on any other cards you may be carrying, such as a health insurance card. Copy the contents of your wallet. If stolen, this can be very helpful to quickly recall what information the thieves have to work with.

• Your Social Security Number; it’s Yours – You Decide
Giving your social security number is voluntary. When asked, don’t be afraid to ask questions:
Why is this information needed? How will it be used? What happens if I refuse to give it to you? What law requires me to give it to you? The answers they give you will help you decide what action is best for you. You may be comfortable that your information is safe or decide to purchase elsewhere.

• Mail & Home Safeguards
Identity thieves don’t keep the same schedule that you do. They watch to learn your schedule and when your mail is delivered. Use a locking mailbox or a post office box for your incoming mail and be sure to send all sensitive mail and checks at a post office or secure postal service box. Pay attention and follow up on any mail you may be missing. Are certain bills overdue or are you expecting a new credit, medical card, or passport to arrive? Put a “hold” on your mail if you are going to be away from home. Buy an shredder and shred, shred, shred – especially credit card offers. Choose to “Opt Out” and sign up for the “Do Not Call Registry” to stop unwanted offers and to be removed from mailing, telemarketing and email lists. Use automatic deposit for payroll and consider using on-line banking and electric bill pay.

When having bank checks printed, use your initial rather than your first name and never have your driver’s license number printed on your check.

Avoid storing your personal and account information in plain sight in your home, such as piled on your desk. If your home is burglarized, a thief has only to grab the entire stack to have all of the information he needs to steal your identity.

Opt out of unsolicited credit card offers • 888-567-8688 • www.optoutprescreen.com
Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry • 888-382-1222 • www.donotcall.gov
Direct Marketing Association • 212-768-7277 • www.dmaconsumers.org

• Computer “Do’s & Never Do’s”
The intranet is a wonderful resource, but does provide opportunities for identity theft. Do:
• Update your firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware and security updates on a regular basis.
• Use difficult to guess passwords with a mix of letters, numbers and special characters such as 3B@n@na$ (3 bananas) and never use pet names or birthdates. If possible, use a different password for each of your accounts.
• Destroy all sensitive data on hard drives that you are discarding or donating.
• Shop at trusted sources when shopping on-line, and get a credit card with a low line of credit that’s solely used for on-line shopping. If the card information is stolen, you’re not out as much as one with a large limit.
• Have a healthy skepticism if something doesn’t seem right. Contact the company directly.
Never:
• Store your passwords on your desk or taped to your computer monitor!
• Use automatic log-in features that save your user name and password.
” Storing financial information on your laptop computer.
• Reply to spam. Not only will you probably end up with more unwanted email, but they will now be certain of your email address.
• Fall for the phishing game; a message seemingly from your bank that may look authentic right down to the logo asking for verification of an account or password. Again, be skeptical. Your bank, nor any other reputable organization, will not ask for your confidential information from you in an email. For the same reason, never link to a website from within an email. It’s easy for a thief to replicate the look and feel of an organization’s internet presence. You may believe you are accessing the correct website, but in reality you have accessed a replicated sight where a thief can obtain your personal information.

Report Spam and Phishing to the Federal Trade commission and the Attorney General’s Office
ww.spam@uce.gov • www.atg.wa.gov

An Ounce of Prevention
Early detection can save you time, money and a lot of aggravation. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction (FACT) Act entitles you access to your credit reports annually free of cost. Order a copy from one of the three reporting agencies listed below and be certain all of the information is accurate. Consider staggering the check throughout the year to increase your chance of finding a problem more quickly.

Three major credit bureaus
Equifax • Fraud hotline 1.800.525.6285 • www.equifax.com
Transunion • Fraud hotline 1.800.680.7289 • www.transunion.com
Experian • Fraud hotline 1.800.397.3742 • www.experian.com

If it Happens to You
• Keep a log outlining each of your steps to correct your situation. This will be helpful to you to prove your case, as well as to be sure not to miss something.
• Immediately contact your local police department and file a report. Give them as much information as you are able about how you think your personal information was stolen. Obtain a copy of the report to help you establish with credit reporting agencies and those who may have granted the thief credit in your name that you are the victim of the crime and not a credit abuser.
• Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies and get a current report. Check it over carefully for accounts you don’t recall opening and inquiries into your credit from places you haven’t applied to.
• Notify banks, credit card companies or any other credit grantor if you suspect fraudulent activity on your account or that an account was fraudulently opened in your name.
• Contact the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline.