Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crime problems in our country. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that 43% of all fraud complaints received in 2002 involved identity theft. When it strikes you, it is hard to know where to turn. Our purpose here is to provide you with background information and to suggest some useful resources. We hope these help if your identity is stolen.
To see specific information concerning trends in the State of Georgia, see www.consumer.gov What is Identity Theft?
Under Federal law, identity theft is defined as when a person "knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law..." 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7).
Law enforcement has a very broad view, and characterizes several types of crimes as identity theft. Some of these include:
- Lost or stolen credit cards
- Credit cards not received in the mail
- Counterfeit credit cards
- Fraudulent use of account numbers
- Account takeovers
- Fraudulent applications for accounts or credit cards
- Filing false tax returns
- Obtaining false identification for the purpose of committing crimes
- Passport fraud
- Bankruptcy fraud
- Employment fraud schemes
- Mortgage or other fraudulent loans
- Telecommunications or utilities fraud
- Social Security benefits fraud
- Money laundering
- Insurance fraud
- Education degree and educational loan frauds
Many financial institutions define identity theft in more narrow terms. They define identity theft as an incident where a person's identifying information is stolen and then used to:
- Fraudulently establish credit
- Take over existing accounts (credit cards, checking, savings, money markets, etc.)
How Identity Theft Occurs
There are many methods to commit identity theft:
- Theft of a wallet containing personal identification, checks or credit cards
- Theft of mail containing personal identifying information
- Observing people in public places who are using their identification
- Internet sources
- Public record information, such as birth, death, marriage or divorce information
- Theft of information from the workplace
- Scamming information from consumers, usually over the internet or telephone, by posing as legitimate companies or government agencies
- Rummaging through residential or business trash for personal data
Steps You Can Take to Help Prevent Identify Theft
- Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact or you are positive you know who you are dealing with in the communication.
- Don't carry your Social Security card.
- Secure personal information in your home, particularly if you have roommates or have workers or outside help in your home.
- Deposit outgoing mail in post office boxes or at the post office rather than leave it in your mailbox, and promptly remove delivered mail from the box. If you are planning to be away, contact the Post Office to arrange a vacation hold.
- Shred or tear your charge receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired credit cards and credit offers that you receive before placing these documents in the trash.
- When you go out, carry only the identification information and credit/debit cards that you will actually use.
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts, and don't use passwords that contain information easily available (such as mother's maiden name, your birth date, last four digits of your Social Security number, etc.).
- Check on information security procedures used by your workplace or at businesses (such as doctors' offices) that collect personally identifying information from you.
- Give your Social Security Number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers.
- Pay attention to your bills - if you don't receive a bill on time check with your creditor (a missing bill could mean that a thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address).
- Beware of promotional scams.
- Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.
- Cancel all unused credit accounts.
- When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank instead of receiving them by mail.
If you are the victim of identity theft, you should contact your local law enforcement agency to file a report.
These web sites give instructions on what you should do if your identity is stolen:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20580
Web site: www.consumer.gov/idtheft
Georgia Office of Consumer Affairs
404) 651-8600 or (800) 869-1123
Web site: https://consumer.georgia.gov/
Internet Crime Complaint Center
Web site: www.ic3.gov/
Credit reporting agencies:
Equifax, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241.
To report fraud: Call (800) 525-6285 and write to address above.
To order a credit report: (800) 685-1111.
To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit: (888) 567-8688.
Web site: www.equifax.com
Experian, P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013.
To report fraud: Call (888) EXPERIAN (888-397-3742) and write to address above
To order a credit report: (888) EXPERIAN.
To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists: (800) 353-0809 or (888) 5OPT-OUT.
Web site: www.experian.com
Trans Union, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634-6790.
To report fraud: (800) 680-7289 and write to address above
To order credit report: (800) 916-8800.
To opt out of pre-approved offer of credit and marketing lists: (800) 680-7293 or (888) 5OPT-OUT.
Web site: www.transunion.com.
Check Systems provide check approval and check guarantee services for stores and other businesses.
CheckRite: (800) 766-2748
Chexsystems: (800) 428-9623
CrossCheck: (707) 586-0551
Equifax: (800) 437-5120
National Processing Co.: (800) 526-5380
SCAN: (800) 262-7771
Tele-Check: (800) 710-9898
Social Security Administration To report fraud: (800) 269-0271.
To order your Earnings and Benefits Statement: (800) 772-1213
Federal Trade Commission
You may download the universal fraud affidavit at this website. This form was developed to help you report information regarding your identity theft to numerous companies using one standard form. You also may need to complete specific forms required by individual companies.