Identity theft statistics
A person can spend a lifetime building a reputation for financial reliability, only to be victimized by identity theft, a crime that can quickly undermine one's good credit. In dealing with the fallout of identity theft, victims often go through a stressful, frustrating and time-consuming ordeal. Once a criminal obtains your Social Security number with a few additional pieces of personal data, such as date of birth, driver's license and mother's maiden name, he or she can apply for credit, loans or utility services in your name. According to the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Clearinghouse, the most typical types of identity theft are as follows:
- Credit card fraud - More than half of all victims said that either a credit card account was opened in their name or an existing account was being used without authorization.
- Bank fraud - The thief either opens an unauthorized checking or savings account in another person's name or writes checks on someone else's account, sometimes after stealing checks.
- Communications services - A quarter of all victims said that a thief used their name to open service with a utility such as the phone company.
- Fraudulent loans - The thief uses the victim's identity to obtain a loan for a car or other item.
How to protect yourself
Review the following tips from us to learn how you can help protect your personal information and avoid being victimized by an identity thief.
Step # 1 - Shred pre-approved credit card offers
If you decide not to accept a pre-approved credit offer, shred it before you throw it away. That goes for any other document imprinted with your Social Security number, date of birth, driver's license, phone number and any type of financial account or utility account number. Your trash can be a gold mine for thieves, so make sure this critical information is shredded before it leaves your house. If you do not want to receive pre-approved credit offers, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) to be removed from the lists of major credit bureau lists.
Step # 2 - Don't display critical information
Do not print your Social Security number, phone number, date of birth or credit card account number on your checks, and don't give this information to a merchant who wants to write it on your check at the time of purchase.
Step # 3 - Secure your mail
Stealing mail is another way that identity thieves obtain your personal information. Consider buying a lockable mailbox if your current mailbox is unsecured. If your mail suddenly stops coming, call the post office immediately. Identity thieves have been know to divert a victim's mail by filing a change of address form.
Step # 4 - Monitor your credit
Monitor your credit report on a regular basis. If you find a change of address you did not initiate or accounts you did not apply for, check out Experian's Fraud Center or call 1-888-397-3742 and request a copy of your personal credit report. The credit report will include contact information for requesting an investigation of incorrect information. It's also important to watch your monthly billing statements for errors.
What to do if you're a victim
Once you become aware that your personal information is being used fraudulently, your best defense is taking fast action to minimize future damage. You should first contact your creditors to close any fraudulent accounts. Next, notify the national crediting reporting agencies by calling Experian at 1-888-397-3742, Equifax at 1-800-270-3435 and Trans Union at 1-800-680-7289.
Each CRA (credit reporting agency) will add a fraud alert message that says, "Fraudulent applications may be submitted in my name using correct personal information. Do not extend credit without first contacting me personally and verifying all applicant information." The date the security alert was issued is also included.
Experian's fraud alert will remain for 90 days. CRAs will send you a complimentary copy of your personal credit report as legislated for victims of fraud, and as a further precaution, remove your name from prescreened offer mailing lists. They will provide you with tips for recovering from fraud. They will also offer you the opportunity to request that a fraud alert message be added to your personal credit report for an extended period of time. This message says, "Fraudulent applications may be submitted in my name using correct personal information. Do not extend credit without first contacting me personally and verifying all applicant information at (your day phone number) or (your evening phone number). Date reported-(mm/yy)." This message will remain on your Experian report for seven years.
This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.