The best way to avoid identity theft is to limit criminals' access to your identity and account information. You can do this by removing identity information from public documents, by destroying paperwork you no longer need, and by limiting "offers" which come to you which a criminal may use to open accounts in your name. The steps below will help you to accomplish this goal.
- Whenever possible, remove your Social Security Number from any public documents, such as your driver's license.
- Shred anything you discard which has identifying information about you (SSN, DOB) or about accounts you own (bank, brokerage, etc.). Be aware that this sort of information can appear on cover and end pages of documents which relate to your accounts. If you discard financial records, such as monthly statements or canceled checks or tax records, shred them.
- Do not give out identifying information over the telephone or the Internet unless you are sure with whom you are communicating.
- At least once a year, order a copy of your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228 or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form (found at www.ftc.gov/credit) and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
- Review your report to be sure that you recognize all accounts reported and all inquiries about your account. There are services which will review your credit report on a weekly basis and e-mail you results. You may also be entitled to a free copy of your report if you are the victim of identity theft.
- If your home computer is connected to the Internet, use a firewall. These may be purchased or downloaded.
- Your computer's hard drive contains personal information. When disposing of a computer you must do more than delete the files. Go to http://oig.nasa.gov/identity.html for additional information.
- Stop all prescreened credit offers by contacting 1-888-567-8688.
- Stop the three credit bureaus from sharing information about you with marketers for promotional purposes by contacting:
PO Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374-0123
Consumer Opt-Out Marketing
701 Experian Parkway
Allen, TX 75013
List Opt Out
PO Box 97328
Jackson, MS 39288-7328
- Stop most direct mail marketing to you for five years by writing to:
Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Service
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
- Stop most telemarketing to you for five years by writing to:
Direct Marketing Association
Telephone Preference Service
PO Box 1559
Carmel, NY 10512
- Stop most unsolicited commercial e-mail to you for five years by writing to: http://www.dmaconsumers.org/consumers/optoutform_emps.shtml
- Stop unsolicited offers for mortgages or to refinance your home by writing to:
Attn: Opt-Out Dept.
9620 Towne Center Drive
San Diego, CA 92121
Or call the Acxiom U.S. Consumer Hotline at (877)774-2094
- Be aware that criminals will file a change of address form so that they can receive your mail. If you notice that your mail service has changed significantly, contact the Post Office to determine if a change of address form has been filed. Criminals will also steal your outgoing mail to get checks you have written to pay bills. They then use solvents to remove the payee information. If you write your checks out by hand, instead of on the computer, use inks that are solvent resistant. Most gel pen inks, like the uni-ball Gel Impact pen, are solvent resistant.
- Criminals will send you e-mails with wonderful offers. Eventually they will ask for identity or account information to assist you in receiving some benefit. Do not fall for this trick.
- Watch for the shoulder surfer. This crook stands near to you at the ATM or the store check out line to look over your shoulder to read the numbers on your credit or debit card and to watch you use you PIN. With this information they can access your accounts.
- Verify all of the information on your monthly account statements. Did you write all of the checks reflected? Did you incur each credit charge? A gang stole 500,000 customer accounts from a major credit card company. Every six months, they charge $1.00 to each account. Most people assume it is some fee of which they are unaware and the criminals get $1,000,000.00 each year. Most banks and credit companies allow you go on-line and check your accounts daily. The sooner you catch the criminal at work, the sooner you can limit the damage.
- Do not assume that the nice man on the phone is a policeman just because he tells you he is. A criminal in St. Louis, Missouri, contacted many doctors and lawyers telling them he was with the Richmond Heights, Missouri, Police Department and that a person was at the Galleria shopping mall attempting to open a credit account to make a huge purchase. The "officer" believed that the person was a criminal attempting to steal the identity of the person he was now calling. The "officer" asked the victim for his identity information to check against that being given at the store. Once he received that information, the criminal immediately opened credit accounts and incurred charges. If each victim had merely hung up and called the Richmond Heights Police Department, there would have been no crime.
- Do not assume that a call you receive from someone trying to collect on a debt is a wrong number. Get the details so that you may learn if your identity has been used. It is not uncommon for the victim to be unaware of the fraud until months or years later. After the criminal obtains credit, and defaults, the first you may hear of this is when someone tries to collect on the debt. While you should not give out any information, you should request documentation of the claim so that you can see if someone has used your identity.
- Beware of e-mail requests that appear to be from your bank, Internet service provider or another business telling you that they need to confirm information, like your Social Security Number, account numbers or PINs. You are directed to what appears to be an official site where you are asked to provide the information. This is always a scam to get your information. No bank, Internet service provider or business will ask you to provide this information over the Internet or by phone. Only a crook will make such a solicitation.
What to do when you first learn you are a victim
If you believe that you have become a victim of identity theft or fraud, there are steps you need to take immediately. The most important is to contact law enforcement and demand that a report be taken. Do not limit your attempts to the local police, also contact the Postal Inspectors (in St. Louis - 314-539-9300) and FBI (in St. Louis - 314-231-4324). The FTC also maintains a database of citizen complaints of identity theft and fraud. You should report what has occurred to you by going to www.consumer.gov/idtheft and complete a Complaint Input Form to have your information included in the database.
Other responses will depend on how you have been victimized.
If your identity is being used to obtain credit or open accounts, you will want to have a "fraud alert" put on your credit accounts with the three credit bureaus. When the criminal attempts to open an account, and the merchant contacts a credit bureau to verify his credit-worthiness, the fraud alert will cause you to be contacted before credit is extended. You may contact the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert at:
- Equifax at www.equifax.com or 800-525-6285
- Experian at www.experian.com or 888-397-3742
- TransUnion at www.transunion.com or 800-680-7289
The criminal may use your identity information to access your existing credit accounts or to open new accounts. You must immediately contact each company and warn them of the crime. Also, request the company's fraud dispute forms. Complete and return those forms. Delay in doing either may subject you to some liability for the fraud losses. If the company does not have a fraud dispute form, send them a letter setting forth the facts. You may wish to include a copy of the police report you have filed. You can find more specific information on the steps to be taken at www.consumer.gov/idtheft (the FTC's site) and reading "Fair Credit Billing" and "Avoiding Credit and Charge Card Fraud." You may also contact the Missouri Commissioner of Finance, Department of Finance, PO Box 716, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102, which can be reached at 1-800-735-2966 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Missouri Attorney General also has a Consumer Protection and Trade Offense Division, located at PO Box 899, 1530 Rax Court, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102, which can be reached at 1-800-392-8222 or via
e-mail at email@example.com.
Criminals have become very proficient in producing counterfeit bank checks with information stolen from a check of yours. You should contact your bank immediately upon learning that someone is using your checking account. Contact the three check verification companies to report the situation. They will notify merchants not to accept your checks. They may be reached at:
- TeleCheck at 800-710-9898 or 800-927-0188
- Certegy, Inc. at 800-437-5120
- International Check Services at 800-631-9656
If you feel that an ATM or debit card is being used by a criminal, contact the issuing bank.
In each case, document your contacts. When you send a letter, send it certified/return receipt and copy and attach all documents to the copy of the letter you retain.
What to do when others try to make you pay
Unfortunately, we see too many cases in which the victim is not only victimized in having their credit and their good name affected, but also in having attempts made to collect on the criminal's debt. You have rights when this happens.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act sets forth a procedure for you to follow:
- First, call the credit bureau and follow up with a letter, which you send certified/return receipt. Tell the bureau what information you consider to be inaccurate. Include copies of any documents you have which support your claim, including a copy of the police report about your situation. It will be easiest if you include a copy of your credit report on which you have circled the items you dispute. You must request a correction or deletion of the disputed information.
- After you have done this, the credit bureau has between 30 and 45 days to investigate your complaint. Part of this procedure involves the credit bureau sending your information to the entity which provided the information you dispute. That entity must also investigate based upon your complaint and report back to the credit bureau.
- When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau must report to you with written results. The credit bureau must correct information you dispute unless the investigation shows it to be accurate. They must provide you with a copy of your correct credit report, and, at your request, will send notices to all entities which have received your credit report in the last six months of the corrections. If the dispute is not resolved, ask the credit bureau to place a 100-word statement of your dispute in your file.
- Second, you must write to any creditor whose information you dispute. Send them copies of the same information you sent to the credit bureau. Again send your letter certified/return receipt.
- For more information go to www.consumer.gov/idtheft and read "How To Dispute Credit Report Errors" and "Fair Credit Reporting."
- The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act allows you to stop contact by debt collectors. If, within 30 days of your first written notice of their collection activity, you write the agency a letter telling them that you do not owe the money, they are forbidden to contact you about the debt. You must include proof that you did not incur the debt, so include a copy of the police report you have made. The creditor has two billing cycles to resolve the dispute once you have sent this letter. Send the letter certified/return receipt and attach all documents you sent to the copy of the letter you retain. You can find more specific information on the steps to be taken at www.consumer.gov/idtheft (the FTC's site) reading "Fair Credit Billing" and "Avoiding Credit and Charge Card Fraud".
You may also wish to contact the Better Business Bureau. In the St. Louis area, you may reach them at 12 Sunnen Drive, Suite 121, St. Louis, Missouri 63143, or by calling 314-645-3300 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.