identity theft protection
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 Identity Theft
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identity theft protection

#1 In Identity Theft Protection
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What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, address, Social Security number (SSN), bank or credit card account number, or other identifying information without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes.

How can someone steal my identity?
Identity thieves may use a variety of low- and high-tech methods to gain access to your personally identifying information. For example:

  • They get information from businesses or institutions by stealing records from their employer, bribing an employee who has access to the records, conning information out of employees, or hacking into the organization's computers.
  • They rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or dumps in a practice known as "dumpster diving."
  • They obtain credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to credit reports or by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legitimate need for and a legal right to the information.
  • They steal credit and debit card account numbers as your card is processed by using a special information storage device in a practice known as "skimming."
  • They steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
  • They steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information.
  • They complete a "change of address form" to divert mail to another location.
  • They steal personal information from your home.
  • They scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.
What are the consequences of identity theft?
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may:
  • Go on spending sprees using your credit and debit card account numbers to buy "big-ticket" items like computers that they can easily sell.
  • Open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth and SSN. When they don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
  • Change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on the account. Because the bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there's a problem.
  • Take out auto loans in your name.
  • Establish phone or wireless service in your name.
  • Counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account.
  • Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
  • File for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred, or to avoid eviction.
  • Give your name to the police during an arrest. If they are released and don't show up for their court date, an arrest warrant could be issued in your name.
What is "pretexting" and how does it relate to identity theft?
Pretexting is the practice of getting your personal information under false pretenses. Pretexters sell your information to people who may use it to get credit in your name, steal your assets, or to investigate or sue you. Pretexting is against the law.

Pretexters use a variety of tactics to get your personal information. For example, a pretexter may call, claim he's from a survey firm, and ask you a few questions. When the pretexter has the information he wants, he uses it to call your financial institution. He pretends to be you or someone with authorized access to your account. He might claim that he's forgotten his checkbook and needs information about his account. In this way, the pretexter may be able to obtain personal information about you such as your SSN, bank and credit card account numbers, information in your credit report, and the existence and size of your savings and investment portfolios.

Keep in mind that some information about you may be a matter of public record, such as whether you own a home, pay your real estate taxes, or have ever filed for bankruptcy. It is not pretexting for another person to collect this kind of information.

By law, it's illegal for anyone to:

  • use false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or documents to get customer information from a financial institution or directly from a customer of a financial institution
  • use forged, counterfeit, lost, or stolen documents to get customer information from a financial institution or directly from a customer of a financial institution
  • ask another person to get someone else's customer information using false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or using false, fictitious or fraudulent documents or forged, counterfeit, lost, or stolen documents.

    How long can identity theft problems go on?

It's difficult to predict how long the effects of identity theft may linger. That's because it depends on many factors including the type of theft, whether the thief sold or passed your information on to other thieves, whether the thief is caught, and problems related to correcting your credit report.

Victims of identity theft should monitor their credit reports and other financial records for several months after they discover the crime. Credit reports should be checked once every three months in the first year of the theft, and once a year thereafter. Keep alert for other signs of identity theft. See How can I tell if I'm a victim of identity theft?

Victims should not delay in correcting their records and contacting all companies that opened fraudulent accounts. The longer the inaccurate information goes uncorrected, the longer it will take to resolve the problem.

How can I tell if I'm a victim of identity theft?

Monitor the balances of your financial accounts. Look for unexplained charges or withdrawals.

Other indications of identity theft include:

  • failing to receive bills or other mail, which may signal an address change by the identity thief
  • receiving credit cards for which you did not apply
  • being denied credit for no apparent reason
  • receiving calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you did not buy
  • Although any of these indications could be a result of a simple error, you should not assume that there’s been a mistake and do nothing. Always follow up with the business or institution to find out

    Are there any other steps I can take to make sure I'm not an identity theft victim?

If an identity thief is opening new credit accounts in your name, these accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. You can find out by ordering a copy of your credit report from any of three major credit bureaus. Check your report carefully to make sure it is accurate. See What should I look for on a credit report to indicate identity theft? If you do find any inaccurate information, you should check your reports from the other two credit bureaus. Note: If your personal information has been lost or stolen, you should check all of your reports more frequently for the first year.

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