Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. While it can be difficult to locate identity thieves by the nature of their crimes, it is important for victims of identity theft to review their credit reports and dispute inaccurate information on their credit report.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information (PII), such as your name, Social Security number, or credit or debit card number. Identity thieves use PII to open fraudulent accounts and make unauthorized credit or debit card charges.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, approximately 10 million Americans have their identity stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft. Alabama ranked number 15 for the number of identity theft complaints made to the Federal Trade Commission in 2010.
Identity theft is a serious problem for consumers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, especially big cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, Jacksonville, Nashville and Orlando. Consumers whose identities have been stolen can spend hundreds of dollars and hours trying to repair their credit reports and good name.
Consumers victimized by identity theft may also lose out on job opportunities, be denied loans or insurance because of negative information on their credit reports. In fact, victims of identity theft may be arrested for crimes that did not commit. The potential for damage, loss, and stress for victims of identity theft is considerable.
How Do Thieves Steal Your Identity?
Identity theft starts with the misuse of your PII. For identity thieves, your name and Social Security number and credit card numbers, or other financial account information is as good as gold.
Identity thieves often use low-tech means to obtain your personal information. For example, identity thieves may steal your mail, wallet or purse. Identity thieves may also take PII from your trash. This is known as “dumpster diving.” Skilled identity thieves may use some higher-tech means to obtain your PII, such as posing as legitimate company through email. This is known as “phishing.” Another method thieves use is called “pre – texting” where they may call you and pretend to be someone else and obtain your personal identifying information.
Also, identity thieves may take your information from businesses or other institutions. This is often done by stealing personnel records, bribing or conning an employee who have access to these records, or hacking into records electronically. Some identity theft victims report that their information was stolen by someone they know, such as a family member.
Deter, Detect And Defend
While there is no guarantee that you will not become a victim of identity theft, you can take actions to minimize the risks of identity theft, and you can minimize the damage if you become a victim of identity theft.
1. DETER: Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information
- Shred financial documents and paperwork – personal information should always be shredded before you discard it.
- Protect your Social Security Number – don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security Number on a check. Only give it out only when it is absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
- Don’t give out personal identifying information on the phone, through email, or over the internet – do not give out this information unless you have initiated the contact and know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links in unsolicited emails. Instead, you should type in a web address that you are familiar with. Always use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your computer. You should also keep this software up to date.
- Don’t use an obvious password. You should never use an obvious password such as your date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security Number. Savvy identity thieves are able to gather this information from you.
- Keep your personal information in a safe place. You should always secure your PII whether it’s at home (especially if you have roommates) or if you employee outside help. You should also be sure to secure this information when you are having work done in your home.
2. DETECT: Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.
- Be alert to signs that require immediate attention. For example, be on the lookout for mail and bills that do not arrive when expected. Other examples include unexpected credit cards or account statements, denials of credit for no apparent reason, denials of credit for companies that you did not apply for credit with and calls or letters about purchases you did not make (unauthorized charges).
- Inspect. You should regularly inspect your credit report. Credit reports have information about you, including what accounts you have in your bill payment history. Financial statements. You should review your financial statements and billing statements regularly. You should look for charges that you did not make (unauthorized charges).
- Request your credit report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that the major nationwide credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once in a twelve month time period. In order for you to get the report, you must ask for it. The best way to request your free annual credit report is to visit the website http://www.ftc.gov/freereports and download the free annual credit report request form. Complete the free credit report request form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5281.
3. DEFEND: Defend against identity theft as soon as you suspect a problem.
- After you review your credit report and identify fraudulent accounts, you should place a fraud alert on your credit reports. The fraud alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make certain charges to existing accounts. The three nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) have toll-free numbers for placing an initial ninety day fraud alert. When you place the fraud alert with one consumer reporting agency, that agency is to notify the other two. Thus, it is sufficient for you to place the fraud alert with only one, but as a precautionary measure, you should go ahead and contact the other two.
The telephone numbers for the consumer reporting agencies for fraud alerts is as follows:
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Placing a fraud alert entitles you for a free credit report. In other words, you do not have to exercise your right to a free annual credit report when making a request for a free credit report due to fraud. After you receive your credit report, you should look for inquiries from companies you have not contacted, accounts you did not open and debts on your accounts that you cannot explain. You should dispute any incorrect information to the credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.
- Close accounts. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. You should call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was open or was changed without your permission. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
- Use the identity theft affidavit at http://ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement. You should also ask for a written verification from the company that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts have been discharged. Keep copies of these documents and records of your conversations about the theft. You will need them in the future when you try to clean up your credit report.
- File a police report. File a police report with local law enforcement officials to help you with officials who may want proof of the crime.
- Report your complaint to the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission collects information regarding the incidents of identity theft. Thus, it is important that if you are made a victim of identity theft, the FTC is made aware of it. Your report also helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations. You can contact the Federal Trade Commission directly to file a complaint.
- 1-877-ID THEFT (438-4338)
Our firm represents identity theft victims. For a confidential and free legal consultation, contact identity theft lawyer Micah Adkins. If you are a lawyer and you have a client who needs help with an identity theft issue, click HERE for more information about how we can work together to help your client.