Identity Theft Protection
Identity theft can occur in a number of different ways. If you know what to look for and how it happens, you can self-detect identity theft before it happens, minimizing losses.
What Identity Thieves Can Do
Using everyday items such as your Driver License or Social Security number to assume your identity, a skilled thief can:
- Open new bank accounts, and write bad checks
- Establish new credit card accounts and not pay the bills
- Obtain personal or car loans
- Get cash advances
- Set up cellular phones or utility services and run up bills
- Change your credit card mailing address and charge on your existing accounts
- Obtain employment
- Rent an apartment, but avoid the payments, and get evicted
How Identity Thieves Do It
Identity theft can occur in a number of different ways. But if you know what to look for and how it happens, you can minimize your overall risk. Here are some common scenarios to watch out for:
Lost/Stolen Wallet or Checkbook
The most commonly reported source of information used to commit fraud is a lost or stolen wallet or checkbook. Stolen wallets and checkbooks usually contain a number of credit and debit cards, in addition to other personal documentation. Using these items, a thief can get enough information to obtain credit under the victim’s name, or sell the information to an organized crime ring.
Thieves rummage through trash cans for pieces of non-shredded personal information that they can use or sell.
Crooks search mailboxes for pre-approved credit offers, bank statements, tax forms, or convenience checks. They also look for credit card payment envelopes that have been left for postal carrier pick-up.
Half of all identity fraud is committed by friends, family members, relatives, employees, and live-in caregivers with access to privileged information. Info such as personnel records, payroll information, insurance files, account numbers, or sales records can be of great help to any identity thief.
Documents in the Home
Unfortunately, identity thieves can gain legitimate access into someone’s home and personal information through household work, baby-sitting, healthcare, friends, or roommates.
Although most identity thefts occur through traditional methods, such as the ones outlined above, risks still exist online. Be cautious when sending information electronically over the Web. Account information sent through e-mail, or online chat, can easily be intercepted by thieves.
If you have fallen victim to identity theft, POPA advises you to immediately report it to the three major credit bureaus for identity theft protection:
- TransUnion — (888) 909-8872
- Equifax — (800) 685-1111
- Experian — (888) 397-3742
Free Annual Credit Reports
The Federal Trade Commission wants you to know about Your Access to Free Credit Reports. This information is available in English and in Spanish. In addition to your right to free credit reports if you are an identity theft victim and in some other specific situations, you can request free reports from each of the major credit bureaus once every 12 months to help you monitor the accuracy of your information and detect fraud.
A security freeze “locks” your credit report so no one can get access to it until you lift the freeze. Be aware that security freezes can help block certain types of credit-related identity theft but they don’t provide blanket protection from one’s stolen information being used. Most states have security freeze laws (there is no federal security freeze law), which vary in terms of who can request a freeze (only victims or anyone) and the amount that can be charged, if anything, for placing and lifting freezes. Even if your state does not have a security freeze law or only provides for freezes for identity theft victims, you can request a freeze from each of the credit bureaus under a voluntary program for a small fee. The process and time it takes to set and lift freezes varies with each credit bureau.