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CHIPS Articles: Guard Against Identity Theft

Guard Against Identity Theft
By Barbara Figueroa, Lani Gordon, Jim Hoskins, Steve Muck, Charles H. Vaughan - January-March 2011
Department of Justice provides information about how to prevent identity theft, as well as what to do if you become a victim of identity theft. The information below summarizes these preventive measures and actions. Additional information can be found at www.justice.gov.

What Can I Do About Identity Theft and Fraud?

To victims of identity theft and fraud, the task of correcting erroneous information about their financial or personal status, and trying to restore their good credit standing and reputations, may seem as daunting as trying to solve a puzzle in which some of the pieces are missing and other pieces no longer fit as they once did. Unfortunately, the damage that criminals inflict in stealing another person's identity to commit fraud often takes far longer to rectify than it took the criminal to commit the crimes.

What Should I Do to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft?

To reduce or mitigate the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud, there are some basic steps to take.

First, be cautious about giving your personal information to others unless you have a very good reason to trust them, regardless of where you are.

When You're at Home

Start by adopting a "need to know" approach to safeguarding your personal data. Your credit card company may need to know your mother's maiden name, so that it can verify your identity, but be suspicious of a phone call from your bank asking for personal information that is already on file with your bank. The only purpose of such a call is to acquire your personal information for identity fraud. Another consideration is to be careful with the information you have printed on your bank checks, such as your Social Security number or home telephone number; you may be routinely sharing your personal information needlessly.

If someone you don't know phones and offers you the chance to receive a "premium" credit card, prize or other valuable item, but asks for personal data, such as your Social Security number, credit card number and expiration date, or mother's maiden name, ask for an application form by mail. If they decline, terminate the call. If you do receive an application, carefully review the information and make sure it is from a company or financial institution that's well-known and reputable. Contact the Better Business Bureau for additional information if you are not familiar with the company or financial institution making the offer.

Check your bank statements and other financial information regularly to ensure that the data is correct.

If you are not receiving monthly financial statements for your accounts, call the financial institution or credit card company immediately and ask for your statement. If you are told that your statements are being mailed to another address that you have not authorized, tell the financial institution or credit card representative immediately that you did not authorize the change of address and that someone may be improperly using your accounts. In this situation, you should also ask for copies of all statements and debit or charge transactions that have occurred since the last statement you received. Obtaining those copies will help you to work with the financial institution or credit card company in determining whether transactions were fraudulently conducted.

Ask periodically for a copy of your credit report. It should list all bank and financial accounts under your name and will provide other indications of whether someone has wrongfully opened or used any accounts in your name. See the information on the next page to contact one of the major credit reporting agencies to order a report.

Maintain careful records of your banking and financial accounts. Even though financial institutions are required to maintain copies of your checks, debit transactions and similar transactions for five years, you should retain your monthly statements and checks for at least one year, if not more.

If you need to dispute a check or transaction, especially if they purport to bear your signatures, your original records will be more immediately accessible and useful to the institutions that you have contacted for resolution of a disputed charge.

While You’re on Travel

When traveling, never place your government or personal laptop into your checked n baggage. Thieves commonly target checked luggage and may benefit from accessible personally identifiable information (PII), as well as the monetary value of the devices.

Put your mail on hold with your local post office or ask someone you know well and trust, such as a family member, friend or neighbor, to collect and hold your mail while you are away.

If you must share PII over the phone, do not do it in a public area where passers-by may hear your conversation. Similarly, protect data transmissions from laptops and cell phones using only secure Wi-Fi connections.

What Should I Do If I’ve Become a Victim of Identity Theft?

If you think you have become a victim of identity theft or fraud, act immediately to minimize the damage. Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the theft: www.ftc.gov; 1-877-ID report, THEFT (1-877-438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or by mail to Identity Theft Clearinghouse, FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.

Per the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, the FTC is responsible for receiving and processing identity theft complaints, providing informational materials, and referring complaints the appropriate entities, including the major credit reporting agencies and law enforcement agencies.

For further information, check the FTC’s identity theft Web pages. You may also call your local FBI office or the U.S. Secret Service to report crimes relating to identity theft and fraud. If your information was stolen or compromised from a Department of the Navy activity, contact your chain of command so the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) can be alerted if criminal intent is suspected.

You may also need to contact other agencies change your automated teller machine card, account and personal identification numbers for other types of identity theft:
• Your local office of the Postal Inspection Service if you suspect that an identity thief had checks stolen or has used the mail to commit frauds involving your identity.
• The Social Security Administration if you suspect that your Social Security number is being fraudulently used.
• The Internal Revenue Service if you suspect the improper use of identification information in connection with tax violations. Call 1-800-829-0433 to report the violations.

Report the Theft to the Fraud Units of the Three Principal Credit Reporting Companies:

Equifax: Phone 1-800-525-6285 or write to P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA it in a public area where passers-by may hear your 30374-0250. To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states), write to P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241, or call 1-800-685-1111. To dispute information in your report, call the phone number provided on your credit report. To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit, call 1-888-567-8688 or write to Equifax Options, P.O. Box 740123, Atlanta, GA 30374-0123.

Experian (formerly TRW): Phone 1-888-EXPERIAN or 1-888-397-3742, or write to P.O. Box 1017, Allen, TX 75013. To order copy of your credit report ($8 in most states), write to P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013 or call 1-888-EXPERIAN. To dispute information in you rreport, call the phone number provided on your credit report. To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists, call 1-800-353- 0809 or 1-888-5OPTOUT or write to P.O. Box 919, Allen, TX 75013.

TransUnion: Phone 1-800-680-7289 or write to P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634. To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states), write to P.O. Box 390, Springfield, PA 19064 or call 1-800-888-4213. To dispute information in your report, call the phone number provided on your credit report. To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists, call 1-800-680-7293 or 1-888-5OPTOUT or write to P.O Box 97328, Jackson, MS 39238.

Other Places to Report the Theft:

Contact all creditors with whom your name or identifying data has been fraudulently used. For example, you may need to contact your long-distance telephone company if your long-distance calling card has been stolen or you find fraudulent charges on your bill.

Contact all the financial institutions where you have accounts to report that an identity thief has fraudulently created accounts in your name but without your knowledge. You may need to cancel the accounts, place stop-payment orders on any outstanding checks that may not have cleared, and may also need to change your automated teller machine card, account and personal identification numbers.

Contact the major check verification companies (listed below) if you have had checks stolen or bank accounts set up by an identity thief. If you know that a particular merchant has received a check stolen from you, contact the verification company that the merchant uses.

• CheckRite 1-800-766-2748
• SCAN 1-800-262-7771
• ChexSystems 1-800-428-9623
• TeleCheck 1-800-710-9898
• CrossCheck 1-800-552-1900
• NPC 1-800-526-5380
• Equifax 1-800-437-5120

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