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Identity Theft

Identity theft is using deception and trickery to obtain personal information for illegitimate purposes, typically economic gain.

Handheld Technology

Perpetrators steal data such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and bank account information to assume another identity. Credit card fraud and financial scams are the most reported uses for identity theft.

Some criminals steal only credit cards and go on shopping sprees, but others make long-term financial commitments, such as taking out a mortgage or buying cars, using the victim’s credit history. They may run up huge amounts of debt by opening dozens of charge accounts and never paying the balance. They then file for bankruptcy in the victim’s name and ruin the victim’s credit history and reputation.

Not all perpetrators of identity theft seek financial gain. Sometimes they aren’t after money and instead may use a stolen identity to do the following:

  • Threaten national security or commit acts of terrorism. The September 11 hijackers used fake IDs to board the airplanes.
  • Forge government or military identification cards to get access to bases and offices to steal information and threaten national security.
  • Steal insurance information to get medical procedures done or get medication.
  • Commit felonies with the stolen identity. Victims of identity theft have been arrested and jailed for crimes they didn’t commit.
  • Obtain a passport to bring someone into the country illegally.

How To Protect Yourself with Mail, Technology, and Finances

  • Don’t use personal, curbside mailboxes, especially for outgoing bill payments. Use the blue United States Postal Service mailboxes or drop off your mail inside a post office.
  • If you’re going out of town, have the post office hold your mail instead of letting it pile up in the mailbox.
  • When disposing of your mail, shred all documents that have personal information on them. Criminals will “dumpster dive” to go through trash and find documents with personal data.
  • Make sure a site is protected and locked before entering any credit or debit card information.
  • Watch for “shoulder-surfers” or people standing behind you while you’re inputting personal information on your computer. This also applies when using an ATM or a credit card—or even your cell phone—at a store.
  • When disposing of a computer, make sure you clear all information from the system and the hard drive. Just deleting or reformatting isn’t enough; purchase software programs to completely erase and destroy all files. Better yet, destroy the hard drive.
  • Protect your Social Security number and never use it for any sort of password or username. Companies may use the last four digits of your Social Security number for identity verification. Be sure to make those calls and have those conversations in private.
  • Know when your bills typically arrive so you notice when a bill is late or missing.
  • Never have personal checks delivered to your home. Pick them up at the bank.
  • Regularly check your credit report to note any irregularities.
  • Cancel any credit card you have not used in the last six months.

If you suspect your identity has been stolen, call one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The law requires the agency you contact to contact the other two. The agencies will flag your account so that anyone who tries to view your credit report will have to verify identity.

  • Equifax: 800.525.6285
  • Experian: 888.397.3742
  • TransUnion: 800.680.7289

Work with your creditors quickly if you notice unauthorized charges on your account or billing statement. You have 60 days from the date you normally receive your bill to notify the creditor. If you notify your creditors within the time frame, your loss for unauthorized charges will be limited to $50.

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