Identity Theft Is A Growing Problem
California attorney Mari J. Frank vividly remembers the telephone call she received that turned her life upside down.
Thieves gather private information about an individual and create “an evil twin”. Some pose as telemarketers and solicit information by phone. Others steal mail, especially pre-approved credit cards or balance-transfer checks. Still others are “Dumpster divers” who retrieve financial documents from trash bins.
A thief uses the information to get credit card accounts, cell phones, even auto loans and mortgages, in the victims name- and the victim often doesn’t have a clue until the thief defaults on payments and the bill collectors come calling.
What thieves want most is your Social Security number. They also like drivers’ licenses and birth certificates, so “they can procure genuine identification documents” in the victims name that wont be suspect.
Protect yourself against identity theft
- Don’t give your Social Security number over the phone unless it is absolutely necessary. It’s also a good idea to be frugal in providing your mothers maiden name, as often is sought to verify your identity by banks and other financial institutions.
- Put a lock on your mailbox. If you cant, then empty your mailbox as soon as possible after the mail is delivered. And don’t leave letters with personal information in the box for pickup by the mail carrier; drop them in at the post office or in a U.S. Postal Service box. Or, use a private mailbox service to receive and send your mail.
- Check your credit report at the three national credit bureaus at least once a year to make sure there’s no unauthorized activity.
- Buy a paper shredder and use it when you’re disposing of old financial records, including tax return, or unwanted credit card offers.
- Don’t leave printed receipts behind at bank machines or gas pumps.
- Don’t put credit card or other personal information on a Web site that isn’t secure.
If you’re a victim, there a number of steps to take– and quickly- to prevent the identity thief from continuing use your name and begin fixing your credit record.
- First, call all of the national credit bureaus and ask to have a “fraud alert” attached to your file.
- Next contact all creditors, by phone and in writing, to inform them of the problem.
- Call your local police, who may be able to act under state consumer protect laws. If you suspect the mail was used, notify your local postmaster.
- Alert your bank so officials can contact you if there’s any unusual activity. You might also request that your personal identification number, or PIN, be changed.
- Get in touch with the Federal Trade Commission, which is the national clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft.
If you think you’ve been a victim, call the FTC’s identity theft hotline at 877-IDTHEFT.