Identity theft is one of the most prevalent types of fraud. Identity theft, also called “account takeover fraud” or “true name fraud,” involves criminals stealing personal information about individuals and assuming their identities by applying for credit in their names. They often run up huge bills, stiff creditors, and as a result, wreck victims’ credit histories. Criminals steal personal information from mailboxes and dumpsters through telemarketing scams, computer hacking, and paying employees in retail establishments or financial institutions to copy down information about customers. Congress declared identity theft a federal crime in 1998 by passing the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act with punishment of up to 15 years in prison.
Consumer tips for victims:
- If you suspect your identity has been stolen, call your bank and credit card issuers immediately so they can start working on closing your accounts and clearing your name.
- File a police report and call the fraud unit of the three credit-reporting companies (see phone numbers below).
- Consider placing a victim statement in your credit report.
- Make sure to maintain a log of all the contacts you make with authorities regarding the matter. Write down names, titles, and phone numbers in case you need to re-contact them or refer to them in future correspondence.
- For more advice, contact the FTC’s ID Theft Consumer Response Center or call 1-877-ID THEFT (1-877-438-4338). You can also visit i-bank's Fraud Resource Center.
Consumer tips to avoid becoming a victim:
- Don’t give your Social Security number or other personal credit information about yourself to anyone who contacts you.
- Tear up receipts, bank statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.
- Be on alert for any missing mail.
- Review your monthly accounts regularly for any unauthorized charges through the internet, phone or ATM statements.
- Choose to do business with companies you know are reputable, particularly online. When conducting business online, make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active, indicating a secure transaction.
- Order copies of your credit report at least once a year to ensure accuracy.
- Never give out personal financial information in an email or over the phone unless you have initiated the contact through a trusted channel.
- When using social networking sites, never include personal contact information including birth date, email addresses, physical address, mother’s maiden name or other information that could provide sensitive information to fraudsters or hints to passwords.
- Don’t open email from unknown sources and use virus detection software.
- Protect your PINs (don’t carry them in your wallet!) and passwords; use a combination of letters and numbers for your passwords and change them periodically.
- Report any suspected fraud to your bank and the fraud units of the three credit reporting agencies immediately.
The fraud unit numbers are:
TransUnion (800) 680-7289
Experian (888) 397-3742
Equifax (800) 525-6285