Take Action If Your Personal Information Is Compromised
Published, April 30, 2014
Identity theft is defined as the fraudulent acquisition and use of an individual's personal information, usually for financial gain. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that the average number of U.S. identity fraud victims annually is over 11.5 million; with the total financial loss attributed to identity theft in 2013 at $21 billion.
Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that approximately 3.6 percent of the U.S. adult population has experienced identity theft, while identity theft of children and the deceased is on the rise. Medical identity theft is also a growing concern. However, the most common form of identity theft is the use of existing credit/debit card account numbers to make purchases.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to obtain personal information, including:
- Dumpster Diving: They rummage through trash looking for bills or paper with personal information on it.
- Skimming: They steal credit/debit card information by using a special storage device when processing a card during a transaction.
- Phishing: They pretend to represent financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to trick people into revealing their personal information. These attacks affect one in four individuals per month. Two-thirds of attacks appear to be from legitimate companies.
- Changing Addresses: They divert billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing: They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit card or loan offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records or bribe employees who have access to personally identifiable information (PII).
If you receive notification that your personal information has been compromised, you should take the following actions immediately:
- If the stolen information includes your financial accounts, close compromised credit card accounts immediately.
- Consult with your financial institution about whether to close bank or brokerage accounts immediately or first change your passwords and have the institution monitor for possible fraud.
- Contact the FTC if your identity has been stolen.
- Place strong passwords on any new accounts that you open and change existing passwords on old accounts. Avoid using your mother's maiden name, your birth date, your Social Security number (SSN), and the last four digits or your personal phone number.
If the stolen information includes your SSN, call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies listed below and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. This alert can help stop someone from opening new credit accounts in your name.
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
More identity theft information:
- Crimes occur more often offline than online.
- Most victims find out about identity theft through an adverse action such as a creditor demanding payment on a delinquent bill.
- Half of discovered identity thieves are known by their victims; one-fourth are dishonest employees.
- Consumer credit card liability is $50.
- Consumer debit card liability is $50 if reported within 48 hours, $500 if reported within 60 days. After 60 days the victim may lose all the money in the account — in addition to the overdraft amount. However, laws and bank practices regarding debit cards are evolving to provide better protection for consumers.
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