Crime Prevention - Identity Theft
One of the fastest emerging crimes investigators, in Anacortes and worldwide, are dealing with is Identity Theft. Identity Theft is the unauthorized use of personal data, such as name, date of birth or social security number, to commit financial fraud. Identity Theft can also include a number of other crimes from the unauthorized use of credit cards to a complete takeover of another person’s name and financial accounts. An identity thief may use someone’s personal identifiers to illegally obtain credit cards, open checking accounts, apply for loads, rent or purchase residences, establish services with utility companies or engage in other fraudulent activity.
Victims of Identity Theft
Banks and retail merchants as well as the account holder become victims when an individual uses accounts which they are not entitled to use. The banks and merchants are out the money or merchandise that was fraudulently obtained. In the long run, these losses are passed on to the customer so in a way, we are all victimized by this crime. The holder of the account, although protected by insurance or credit card reimbursement provisions may have to go through a difficult, expensive and lengthy process to reestablish their credit.
How Identity Theft May Occur
Offenders who commit identity theft may or may not be known to the victim. There are many ways the offender may obtain the victim’s account information. Information can be obtained from trash bins at banks, mortgage firms, social or credit agencies and from obituaries or residential garbage cans. Bank statements and credit card statements or applications can be stolen from private mailboxes.
Identity thieves could also work at locations which have access to your personal records such as car dealerships, banks, mortgage houses, collection agencies, motels/hotels, and telemarketing firms. Information obtained from these sources can be used to assume a false identity.
Preventing Identity Theft: Do’s & Don’ts
- Protect your mail by removing it from the mailbox as soon as possible.
- If you believe that your mail was opened or altered, notify the sender and be aware of any phone calls asking to verify your credit card numbers, loan or bank account information.
- Stop pre-approved credit offers by calling and opting out. Opting out lessens the number of pre-approved offers sent to you. 1-888-5OPTOUT or 888-567-8688.
- If you are expecting a new or renewed credit card, blank checks or other financial documents by a specific date, watch the mail to be certain it arrives and pursue the matter if it fails to arrive.
- Shred/tear up any discarded paperwork or mail that contains personal identifiers or financial information.
- If a vendor uses carbon copies for credit card transactions, ask for and destroy the carbons.
- Be aware of where you keep your personal identification and who has access to it.
- Protect your wallet and/or purse, never leave them unattended or locked in your car.
- Carefully review your bills, including utility bills and bank statements, to ensure that all balances and receipts match and no activity is unauthorized or unaccounted for.
- If you use a computer, install software that encrypts information you send in emails.
- Ask your financial institution to add security to your accounts such as special passwords.
- Obtain a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus at least once a year and assure its accuracy.
- Never give out your personal information in response to unsolicited officer by phone, mail, Internet or in person. Criminals may pose as legitimate business people, charity workers or even law enforcement officers to gain your trust.
- Do not use your social security number unless you have to.
- Do not have your birthday or drivers license number preprinted on your checks.
- Do not fill out warranty cards for items you purchase or enter sweepstakes. Such information is often sold to others as a marketing tool.
- Do not mail bills from home, place them in a public drop box provided by the post office.
Keep Your Information Safe
Personal identifiers, account numbers and other private information should not be provided to someone unless you know the information will be secure. Following these steps will reduce your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft. Your goal should be to reduce other peoples access to your information. You should know what people and companies do with the information you give them.
Keep these facts in mind:
- Know the company or person to whom you give the information.
- Ask what the person or company will do with the information.
- Err on the side of caution, keep and eye on your financial picture so if irregularities occur, you will recognize them.
- Remember, although you may not have to pay fraudulent bills, it will be your responsibility to correct errors and restore your good financial rating.
Credit Bureau Contact Information
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
To report fraud, call 800-525-6285 and write to Equifax address.
To order a credit report, call 800-685-1111
P.O. Box 9530
Allen, TX 75013
To report fraud, call 800-301-7195 or 888-397-3742 and write to the address.
To order a credit report, call 888-397-3742.
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064
To report fraud call 800-680-7289 and write to Fraud Victim Assistance Division.
Fraud Victim Assistance Division
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634 to 5790
If You Are a Victim
If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, contact your local police department.