Identity theft is a serious crime impacting more than 10 million victims each year. Often, consumers first learn they are identity theft victims when they are in the process of buying or renting a home. The National Association of Realtors is working with the Federal Trade Commission to educate comsumers to minimize the risk of identity theft. This new initiative, Deter-Detect-Defend is focused on empowering consumers to protect themselves against identity and to minimize its impact.
‘Deter’ Tips to Share with Consumers
1. Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
2. Protect your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is the key to your identity and must be closely protected. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
3. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
4. Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a Web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
5. Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
6. Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house.
‘Detect’ tips to share with consumers
Be alert to signs that require immediate attention:
1. Mail or bills that do not arrive as expected
2. Unexpected credit cards or account statements
3. Denials of credit for no apparent reason
4. Calls or letters about purchases that were not made
1. Your credit report. This contains information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history.
** The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it.
** Visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com/ or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies, to order your free credit reports each year. You also can write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.2. Your financial statements. Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make.
‘Defend’ tips to share with consumers
1. Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports. A fraud alert on your credit report tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open any new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. Each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies has a toll?free number you can use to place an initial fraud alert. Only one call is necessary; the company you call will notify the other two. An initial fraud alert is active for 90 days. If you want to place an extended (seven-year) fraud alert, you must follow additional procedures.
** Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
** Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
** TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain.
2. Close accounts. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
* Start by calling the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your authorization. Follow up in writing and include copies of supporting documents.
* Use the “ID Theft Affidavit,” available at ftc.gov/idtheft, to support your written statement.Get written verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts have been discharged.
* Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
3. File a police report. File a report with law enforcement officials – for example, state or local police. It will help you work with creditors who may request documentation that a crime has occurred.
4. Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your information helps law enforcement officials across the country with their investigations.
** By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338), or TTY,1-866-653-4261
** By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse Federal Trade Commission 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Washington, DC 20580
A friend of mine was just a victim of Identity Theft. Someone got her my credit card number. They made 2 credit cards with her number on it and used these cards to charge $500 at Bed Bath and Beyond in Rockville, Md. At the same time (within 2 hours), they spent $500 at Walmart in Lakeland, FL. My friend discovered something was amiss when she went to use her card and it was declined.
The following is a memo from my friend’s attorney to his office staff:
1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.”
3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the “For” line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won’t have access to it.
4. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a P.O. Box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a P.O. Box, use your work address.
5. Never have your SS# printed on your checks. (DUH!) You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
6. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. I also carry a photocopy of my passport when travel either here or abroad.
We’ve all heard horror stories about fraud that’s committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards. Unfortunately I, an attorney, have firsthand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more.
But here’s some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:
1. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.
2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).
But here’s what is perhaps most important of all: (I never even thought to do this.)
3. Call the 3 national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves’ purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away. This weekend someone turned it in. It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.Now, here are the numbers you always need to contact about your wallet, etc., has been stolen:
1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
3.) Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
This all makes good sense and we are glad to be able to share it with you. So, please protect yourself!