Due to increasing reports being filed
at the Sweeny Police Department from Identity Theft/Fraud, and after
carefully reviewing national trends, we thought this section could be a
valuable source of information to protect consumers against the No. 1
consumer fraud complaint in the nation.
According to the nonprofit
Clearinghouse and the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC), victims spend an average of 175 hours and $1,000
to clear their names after an incident of ID Theft.
Identity Fraud is one of the fastest
growing white collar crimes in America.
Last year, about one million Americans
were victimized by identity theft, according to law enforcement officials
and privacy advocates.
Identity theft can result in the following to a
- Denied employment
- Denied credit
- Denied loans and mortgages
- Denied government benefits
- Denied utilities
- Denied leases
- Garnished wages and tax refunds
- Liens placed on property
Prevent ID Theft
We have provided a simple checklist
experts and victims recommend to help prevent identity theft.
Once a year --- starting now ---
check your credit report from all three of the credit bureaus listed
below. Look for inaccuracies, anything amiss. Confirm your records are
Develop the habit of reading your
account statements as they arrive --- bank, credit cards, etc.
Unauthorized charges are often the first red flag.
Guard your Social Security Number
like the family jewels. Don't carry your card with you. Don't put your
SSN or driver's license number on your checks. Don't give your SSN to
anyone unless absolutely necessary (tax forms, employment records, most
banking, stocks, police reports). The SSN is the key criminals use to
unlock your finances.
Don't carry extra credit cards, your
birth certificate, or your passport with you except when necessary.
Reduce the number of credit cards you use to a minimum.
Arrange the contents of your wallet
on a photocopy machine (except for the cash), copy both sides of each
license, ATM and credit card, health insurance card, etc. Keep those
copies in a safe place. If your wallet is lost or stolen, you will have
the numbers to call immediately.
Order new checks that use only your
first initial with your last name. If a crook filches your checkbook, he
won't know whether you sign your checks with just your initials or your
first name --- but your bank knows. Arrange to pick up your new checks at
the bank instead of having them mailed to you.
Get a paper shredder. This is not
paranoid behavior. Destroy all mail, credit card offers, and paper you
throw away that contain sensitive information. Identity thieves need only
your name, address, and SSN --- which they can find on trashed mail or on
identification in your wallet.
Consider telephone solicitors
suspects. Never confirm or provide any personal information (not your
date of birth, mother's maiden name, ATM pin numbers, not even your
address!) unless you initiated the call.
Put a lock on your mailbox. Send
all outgoing mail from post office collection boxes, not an unsecured
mailbox. Try not to let mail stay in your mailbox for long.
Reduce the flood of pre-approved
credit card offers by removing your name from the marketing lists of the
credit reporting bureaus. Call 888-5OPT-OUT. You will have to
provide your SSN.
Call your credit card companies,
bank, and phone company and ask to place passwords or extra security
protection on your accounts.
Never allow your credit card number
to be written as an ID on your checks.
Create passwords and PINs (personal
identification numbers) that are unpredictable --- don't use the last four
digits of your SSN, your date of birth, middle name, etc. And remove all
PINs and passwords from your wallet or purse.
Stop leaving those ATM, gas pump,
and credit card receipts behind. Never toss them in a public trash
Order your Social Security Earnings
and Benefits Statement once a year from the Social Security Administration
to check for fraud.
Keep your canceled checks in a safe
place --- they reveal a lot of personal information that could put you at
risk for fraud.
Online, before providing personal
provides an encrypted connection before making a credit card purchase.
Look for seals of approval from online-security firms such as VeriSign or
Entrust. Secure pages show a locked padlock symbol in the lower right
corner of your browser and have "https" addresses. Avoid sites that ask
for more than your name, address, phone number, and credit card number.
Update your virus-protection
software today and regularly hereafter, or whenever a new virus alert is
announced. Viruses can introduce codes that cause your computer to send
Never download files sent by
strangers or click on hyperlinks in e-mails from senders you don't know.
Install a fire-wall program ---
especially if you have a high-speed Internet connection such as cable,
DSL, or T-1. The fire-wall allows you to stop uninvited hackers from
accessing your computer.
Install an anti-spy program that
searches and destroys spy software that infiltrates your computer from the
Internet. Lavasoft's Ad-Aware is free at
Don't store financial information on
your laptop computer. If you must, use a complex password. Don't use the
automatic log-in and password feature. Laptops are often stolen for the
information on them, not just the hardware.
Keep a separate credit card with a
lower limit exclusively for online transactions.
Fight ID Theft
If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft:
Call the fraud division of the three
credit bureaus and place a "fraud alert" on your name and social security
number (SSN). Any company or creditor then must contact you first to
authorize new credit. Ask the credit reporting agencies to send you
copies of your credit reports (identity theft victims get them free).
File a police report in the
jurisdiction where it was stolen. This proves to credit providers you
were diligent. If you suspect the mail was used, notify your local
Notify your bank so that they will
contact you if there's any unusual activity in your account. Change your
Contact creditors who have opened
fraudulent accounts or permitted access to your existing accounts. Tell
them this is a case of ID theft and close those accounts. Request copies
of all applications and transactions on the account.
Contact the FTC --- the national
clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft --- at
1-877-IDTheft. File their ID Theft Affidavit that alerts companies and
organizations that may have fraudulent accounts opened in your name.
Numbers You Need
Oldenburg, Don. Washington
Post. Reprinted Houston Chronicle. Stolen Identities: Take
Precautions to Avoid Becoming the Next Victim. 01-15-2003.
Gordon, Jim. American
Police Hall of Fame Newsletter. Protect Yourself From IDENTITY FRAUD!