What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft happens when your personal information, typically your Social Security number (SSN), is stolen and used to commit fraud or theft. The thief can use this information to rent apartments, buy cell phones, drain your bank account or obtain loans and credit cards. In worst-case scenarios, thieves can even hold a job or commit a crime using your identification. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft affects nearly 400,000 people in the US each year. A person whose identity has been stolen can spend months or years and thousands of dollars to clean up the mess made of their good name or credit record. For more information about Identity Theft, please visit the FTC Website at www.consumer.gov/idtheft *
How Can It Happen?
Identity thieves have high- and low-tech ways of stealing your personal information. They can search through your trash or hack into your personal computer. The following are just a few examples of items identity thieves look for:
- Your wallet or purse containing ID, credit cards, debit cards
- Bank statements or receipts
- Mail credit card statements, checks, tax information, pre-approved credit card offers, etc.
- Personal information from your home or home computer
- Files from offices where you are a customer, employee, patient or student
Minimize Your Risk
Now that you are aware of identity theft and how it occurs, these steps can lower the chance that it will happen to you.
- Order a copy of your credit report. Make sure it's accurate and includes only the activities you've authorized. Do this at least once a year to catch mistakes and fraud before they wreak havoc on your personal finances. To order your FREE yearly credit report visit www.annualcreditreport.com*.
- Guard passwords and PINs that allow you to access your credit card, financial and phone accounts and avoid using easily available information such as your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number.
- Secure personal information in your home. Remove your new mail from the mailbox promptly and send outgoing mail from the post office or other secure mail boxes. Tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, physician statements, checks and bank statements. Where available, arrange to receive your account statements online instead of on paper. Where available, arrange to receive your account statements online instead of on paper.
- Review your account statements on a regular basis, and use online or phone balance and transaction review features. These are among the best ways to watch for fraudulent activity on all of your financial accounts.
- Find out who has access to your personal information at work and verify that records are kept in a secure location.
- Don't carry your SSN card, leave it in a secure place.
- Learn how to keep your computer and personal information safe.
Sharing Personal Information with Businesses
Many businesses offer an "opt-out" choice that limits the information shared with others or used for promotional purposes. When you "opt-out" you may cut down on the number of unsolicited telemarketing calls, promotional mail and spam e-mails you receive.
If You Are a Victim
Identity theft can happen even if you think you have done all you can to protect yourself. If you suspect your personal information has been misused to commit fraud or theft, take action immediately. Here are three basic steps to take to protect against further damage:
- Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus to inform them that you are an identity theft victim. Request that a "fraud alert" be placed on your file and request a copy of your credit report. Please see the resources section for a listing of credit bureau contact numbers.
- If you believe your accounts have been tampered with or fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name, close these accounts immediately. If you have a Northwest Community Credit Union account with unauthorized credit or debit activity, please contact the credit union immediately.
- File a police report with your local police department or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Ask for a copy of the police report; often credit card companies and others will need proof of the crime to erase the debts caused by identity theft.
Resolving Credit Problems
The key to proving you are a victim of identity theft is to get the right documents to the right people. The following are tips to help you resolve credit problems resulting from identity theft.
- Credit reports: Call the Credit Bureau and inform them of the information on your credit report that you believe is inaccurate. Follow up in writing and include copies (not originals) of your documentation such as a copy of the police report or your credit card statement with circles around the items in question.
- Credit cards: Write your credit card company or other provider to inform them of fraudulent charges. Send your letter so that it arrives at the creditor within 60 days from when the first bill containing the charge was sent to you.
- ATM cards, debit cards and electronic fund transfers: If your ATM or Visa® Debit Card is stolen or lost or you find a fraudulent transaction on your statement, visit or call the credit union immediately.
Identity Theft Resources
Federal Trade Commission
To report fraud, call: 800.525.6285 and write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
To report fraud, call: 888.EXPERIAN (888.397.3742) and write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
To report fraud, call: 800.680.7289 and e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write: Fraud Victim Assistance Department, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
- Credit Cards
To opt out of receiving pre-screened credit card offers, please call 888.5.OPTOUT (888.567.8688).