the course of the day you may write a check at the drugstore, charge
tickets to a concert, rent a car, call home on your cell phone,
or apply for a credit card. Chances are you don't give these
routine transactions a second thought. But others may.
Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in America, affecting
half a million new victims each year. Identity theft or identity
fraud is the taking of a victim's identity to obtain credit,
credit cards from banks and retailers, steal money from a victim's
existing accounts, apply for loans, establish accounts with utility
companies, rent an apartment, file bankruptcy, or obtain a job using
the victim's name. Thousand of dollars can be stolen without
the victim knowing about it for months or even years.
The imposter obtains your social security number, your birth date,
and other identifying information such as your address and phone
number. With this information and a fake driver's license,
they can apply in person for instant credit or through the mail
posing as you. They often claim they have moved and provide their
own address. Once the first account is opened, they can continue
to add to their credibility.
They get the information from your doctor, lawyer, school, health
insurance carrier, and many other places. "Dumpster divers"
pick up information you may have thrown away, such as utility bills,
credit card slips, and other documents.
To prevent this from happening to you
- Do not give out personal information over the phone, through
the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact
or know whom you're dealing with. Identity thieves will
pose as bank representatives, Internet service providers, and
even government officials to get you to reveal identifying information.
- Shred all documents, including pre-approved credit applications
received in your name, insurance forms, bank checks and statements
you are discarding, and other financial information.
- Do not use your mother's maiden name, your birth date,
the last four digits of your social security number, or a similar
series of numbers as a password for anything.
- Minimize the identification information and the number of cards
you carry. Take what you'll actually need. Don't carry
your social security card, birth certificate, or passport, unless
- Do not put your social security number on your checks or your
credit receipts. If a business requests your social security number,
give them an alternate number and explain why. If a government
agency requests your social security number, there must be a privacy
notice accompanying the request.
- Do not put your telephone number on checks.
- Be careful using ATMs and phone cards. Someone may look over
your shoulder and get your PIN numbers, thereby gaining access
to your accounts.
- Make a list of all your credit card account numbers and bank
account numbers with customer service phone numbers and keep it
in a safe place.
- When you order new credit cards in the mail or previous ones
have expired, watch the calendar to make sure you get the card
within the appropriate time. If the card is not received within
that time, call the credit card grantor immediately to find out
if the card has been sent. If you don't receive the card,
check to make sure a change of address was not filed.
- Do not put your credit card number on the Internet unless it
is encrypted on a secured site.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors
if bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill
could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account
and changed your billing address.
- Cancel all credit cards that you have not used in the last
six months. Open credit is a prime target.
- Order your credit report at least twice a year. Reports should
be obtained from all three major sources: Equifax at 800-685-1111;
Experian at 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); or TransUnion at 800-680-7293.
- Correct all mistakes on your credit report in writing. Send
the letters return receipt requested. Identify the problems item
by item and send with a copy of the credit report back to the
credit reporting agency. You should hear from the agency within
- Write to Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service,
PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735 to get your name off direct
Return to Crime Prevention Tips
Crime Prevention Tips Provided by:
National Crime Prevention Council