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Identity Theft

Identity theft involves the misuse of another individual's personal identifying information for fraudulent purposes. It is almost always committed to facilitate other crimes, such as credit card fraud, mortgage fraud, and check fraud. Personal identifying information, such as name, Social Security number, date of birth and bank account number is extremely valuable to an identity thief. With relatively little effort, an identity thief can use this information to take over existing credit accounts, create new accounts in the victim's name, or even evade law enforcement after the commission of a violent crime. Identity thieves also sell personal information online to the highest bidder, often resulting in the stolen information being used by a number of different perpetrators. Identity theft can be very difficult for consumers to deal with, as they often do not know they have been defrauded until they are denied credit or receive a call from a creditor seeking payment for a debt incurred in their name.

This page will give you information you can use to protect your data and what to do if you suspect your personal information has been stolen.

What is Personally Identifiable Information?

The following lists contain types of information about yourself that you should take steps to protect.

Moderately Sensitive Personally Identifiable Information

  • Name

  • Home Address

  • Telephone Numbers

  • Date of Birth

  • Email Addresses

  • Previously used names (including maiden names, previous married names, and mother's maiden name)

Highly Sensitive Personally Identifiable Information

  • Social Security Number or Tax Identification Number

  • Bank or checking account number

  • Credit card number (with or without expiration date and/or the card verification value)

  • Debit card number

  • Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords

  • Passport number

  • Driver's license number or state ID card number

  • Insurance policy number

  • Health information

  • Other confidential financial information such as salary, tax forms, account balances, and information about other financial accounts, such as a mortgage, retirement, or investment account

How to Prevent Identity Theft

Follow these steps to minimize your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft:

  • Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home, and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work.

  • Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home. Make a copy of your Medicare card and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry the copy with you - unless you are going to use your card at the doctor’s office.

  • Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer.

  • Take outgoing mail to the post office or a post office collection box. Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox. If you won’t be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail.

  • When you order new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home, unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock.

  • Make sure you know who is getting your personal or financial information. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with.

  • Before you dispose of a computer or any other electronic data storage device, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire device.

  • Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.

  • Use strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank, and other accounts.  Do not use the same password for multiple accounts.  Be creative.  Think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, “I want to see the Pacific Ocean” could become 1W2CtPo.

  • Don't over share on social networking sites.  If you post too much information about yourself, an identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer ‘challenge’ questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information. Consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites.

  • Keep a close hold on your Social Security number and ask questions before deciding to share it. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification.

  • Read privacy policies.  They can be long and complex, but they tell you how the site maintains accuracy, access, security, and control of the personal information it collects; how it uses the information, and whether it provides information to third parties. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

How to Recognize Identity Theft

Be aware of these symptoms of Identity Theft:

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.

  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.

  • Merchants refuse your checks.

  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.

  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.  Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to request a free credit report once every twelve months. 

  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.

  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.

  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.

  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.

  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

What To Do If Your Identity is Stolen

Follow these steps if you detect you are a victim of identity theft:

Immediate Steps to Repair Identity Theft

  • Close Accounts

    • Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changes were made without your authorization.  Follow up in writing and included copies of supporting documents.

    • Ask for verification that the disputed accounts have been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.

    • Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.

  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission.

    • Submit a report about the theft to the FTC (www.ftc.gov/idtheft). When you finish writing all the details, print a copy of the report. It will be called an Identity Theft Affidavit.

  • File a police report. 

    • File a report with law enforcement officials to help you deal with the creditors who may want proof of the crime.

  • Order your credit report

    • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

    • Experian: 1-888-397-3742

    • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

Extended Steps to Repair Identity Theft

  • Keep records of all calls and written communication regarding the Identity Theft.

  • Consider placing a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit file.

  • Dispute any errors in your credit file with the credit reporting company and the fraud department of each business that reported the error.

  • Get copies of documents used by the criminal.

 

This site is for educational purposes and is not intended to provide legal advice.  For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.  Credits: Federal Trade Commission; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Homeland Security; National Cyber Security Alliance.


 

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