While the thought of a total stranger stealing your identity may sound appealing under certain circumstances (like when facing a Captain's Mast, for instance), "identity theft" is becoming a tremendous problem in this country, with over 400,000 cases reported in 1998. All it takes is one slip (of paper) for an identity thief to strike. For these unfortunate individuals, their credit ratings, and sanity, can be damaged. This information sheet is designed to help protect you against identity theft and provide you with helpful resources, should you become the next victim.
Identity theft occurs whenever an unauthorized individual uses your personal information (name, SSN, credit card numbers, etc.) to open new accounts or charge merchandise in your name without your permission. While you may think your personal information is secure, often, it is not. Several national banks and numerous institutions have engaged in the practice of selling their customers' SSNs, credit ratings, account activity information, even the identities of the parties to whom their customers have written checks, to telemarketing firms, and others who use that information to direct their marketing. For the thief, this laissez-faire policy places account information at their disposal, in the same way that restaurants that discard their credit card receipts in the garbage do.
To be prudent and possibly nip identity theft in the bud, it is recommended that you obtain your credit reports from the three national bureaus on a yearly basis so that you can correct any errors or mistakes. Also, do not carry your SSN card in the same place you carry your driver's license and never throw receipts away without tearing them or shredding them first. Use alternate numbers, rather than your SSN, if possible, on your driver's license and health care cards. Last, guard your personal information by being cautious don't send your credit card number over the internet unless dealing with a reputable and secure site and don't give your personal information to people or agencies you don't trust.
Contacting your Legal Assistance Office would be an excellent first step.
If you are the victim of identity theft, however, it is recommended that you file a police report. The police report may help you in dealing with creditors demanding payment for purchases you did not make. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 (18 U.S.C. § 1028) makes identity theft a federal crime with fines and penalties up to 15 years imprisonment. As of July 1999, only a handful of states have passed identity theft statutes [California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Jersey]. Contact your creditors via telephone and in writing to inform them of the situation. Lastly, keep accurate records of your transactions and purchases in order to reverse the damage, you will have to provide proof and you will have to be tenacious.
Act quickly to minimize damage. In dealing with the authorities and financial institutions, keep a log of all conversations, including dates, names, and phone numbers. Note time spent and any expenses incurred. Confirm conversations in writing. Send correspondence by certified mail (return receipt requested). Keep copies of all letters and documents. Some of the steps recommended are as follows:
1. Credit bureaus. Immediately call the consumer/credit bureaus fraud units of the three credit reporting companies -- Experian (formerly TRW), Equifax and Trans Union. Report the theft of your credit cards or numbers. Ask that your account be flagged. Also, add a victim's statement to your report, up to 100 words. ("My ID has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Contact me at 311-123-4567 to verify all applications.") Be sure to ask how long the fraud alert is posted on your account, and how you can extend it if necessary. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1682t) allows such "100 word" statements, as well as mandating that the Credit Reporting Bureaus review and investigate your allegations of error and return a report within 30 days.
For Equifax, their fraud report # is (800) 525-6285; their credit order report # is (800) 685-1111; their web site is http://www.equifax.com . Or write: P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA 30374-0250. Order copy of report ($8 in most states): P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241, or ph # 1-800-997-2493.
For Experian, their fraud report # is (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742); their credit order report # is the same. Their web site is http://www.experian.com . Or write: P.O. Box 949, Allen, TX 75013. Order copy of report ($8 in most states): P.O. Box 2104, Allen TX 75013.
For Trans Union, their fraud report # is (800) 680-7289; their credit order report # is (800) 916-8800; their web site is http://www.tuc.com . Or write: P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634. Order copy of report ($8 in most states): P.O. Box 390, Springfield, PA 19064.
Be aware that these measures may not entirely stop new fraudulent accounts from being opened by the impostor. Ask the credit bureaus in writing to provide you with free copies every few months so you can monitor your credit report.
Ask the credit bureaus for names and phone numbers of credit grantors with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened. Ask the credit bureaus to remove inquiries that have been generated due to the fraudulent access. You may also ask the credit bureaus to notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months in order to alert them to the disputed and erroneous information (two years for employers.)
2. Creditors. Contact all creditors immediately with whom your name has been used fraudulently -- by phone and in writing. Get replacement cards with new account numbers for your own accounts that have been used fraudulently. Ask that old accounts be processed as "account closed at consumer's request." (This is better than "card lost or stolen," because when this statement is reported to credit bureaus, it can be interpreted as blaming you for the loss.) Carefully monitor your mail and credit card bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity. Report it immediately to credit grantors.
Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department, and follow up in writing. Following up with a letter is one of the procedures spelled out in the Fair Credit Billing Act for resolving errors on credit billing statements, including charges or electronic fund transfers that you have not made.
Creditors requirements to verify fraud. You may be asked by banks and credit grantors to fill out and notarize fraud affidavits, which could become costly. The law does not require that a notarized affidavit be provided to creditors. A written statement and supporting documentation should be enough (unless the creditor offers to pay for the notary). Overly burdensome requirements by creditors should be reported to federal and state government authorities.
3. Law enforcement. Report the crime to all police and sheriff's departments with jurisdiction in your case. Give them as much documented evidence as possible. Get a copy of your police report. Keep the phone number of your fraud investigator handy and give it to creditors and others who require verification of your case. Credit card companies and banks may require you to show the report in order to verify the crime. Some police departments have been known to refuse to write reports on such crimes. Be persistent!!
4. Stolen checks. If you have had checks stolen or bank accounts set up fraudulently, report it to the check verification companies (see next page for names and phone numbers). Put stop payments on any outstanding checks that you are unsure of. Cancel your checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers. Give the bank a secret password for your account (not mother's maiden name) or SS#.
5. ATM cards. If your ATM card has been stolen or compromised, get a new card, account number and password. Do not use your old password. When creating a password, don't use common numbers like the last four digits of your Social Security number or you birthdate. Immediate notification to the bank, upon review of your account statement, will limit your losses dramatically due to the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (15 U.S.C. § 1666, 12 CFR Part 205), or EFTA. The time limits for action under EFTA are severely constrained: notice to bank/financial institution within 2 business days from date of receipt of your statement (your maximum exposure is $50); notice within 2-60 business days, maximum exposure is $500; notice after 61 business days, you face unlimited exposure-- no protections under the EFTA, although other protections may be available.
6. Fraudulent change of address. Notify the local Postal Inspector if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of your address with the post office or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud. (Call the local Postmaster to obtain the phone number, 1-800-275-8777). Find out where fraudulent credit cards were sent. Notify the local Postmaster for that address to forward all mail in your name to your own address. Talk with the mail carrier. (Web: http://www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect )
7. Secret Service jurisdiction. The Secret Service has jurisdiction over financial fraud, but it usually does not investigate individual cases unless the dollar amount is high or you are one of many victims of a fraud ring. To interest the Secret Service in your case, you may want to ask the fraud department of the credit card companies and/or banks, as well as the police investigator, to notify the particular Secret Service agent they work with. (Web: http://www.treas.gov/usss )
8. Social Security Number misuse. Call the Social Security Administration (SSA) to report fraudulent use of your Social Security number. Report fraud to 1-800-269-0271. As a last resort, you might want to change your number.. The SSA will only change it if you fit their fraud victim criteria. Obtain Social Security Pub 05-10064 "When Someone Misuses Your Social Security Number". Also order a copy of your Earnings and Benefits Statement and check it for accuracy; Call (800) 772-1213. (Web http://www.ssa.gov )
9. Passports. If you have a passport, notify the passport office in writing to be on the lookout for anyone ordering a new passport fraudulently. (Web: htpp://travel.state.gov/passport_services.html )
10. Phone service. If your long distance calling card has been stolen or you discover fraudulent charges on your bill, cancel the account and open a new one. Provide a password which must be used any time the account is changed. Again, file a police report and contact the fraud section of the phone company.
11. Drivers license number misuse. You may need to change your driver's license number if someone is using yours as identification on bad checks. Call the state office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name. Put a fraud alert on your license. Go to your local DMV to request a new number. Also, fill out the DMV's complaint form to begin the fraud investigation process. Send supporting documents with the completed form to the nearest DMV investigation office.
12. False civil and criminal judgments. Sometimes victims of identity theft are wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the impostor. If a civil judgment has been entered in your name for actions taken by your impostor, contact the court where the judgment was entered and report that you are a victim of identity theft. If you are wrongfully prosecuted for criminal charges, contact a lawyer or this office FIRST before you contact the state authorities, Department of Justice and the FBI. Ask how to clear your name.
13. Legal help. You may want to consult an attorney to determine legal action to take against creditors and/or credit bureaus if they are not cooperative in removing fraudulent entries from your credit report or if negligence is a factor. Contact your Legal Assistance Office for assistance and input. You may also call the local Bar Association to find an attorney who specializes in consumer law and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
14. Dealing with emotional stress Psychological counseling may help you deal with the stress and anxiety commonly experienced by victims. Know that you are not alone. Contact your ISC Worklife offices for financial counseling and referral to professional emotional support.
15. Making change. Write to your state and federal legislators. Demand stronger privacy protection and fraud assistance by creditors and credit bureaus. Review the attached web sites for contact points and information.
16. FTC. Involve the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission is the federal clearinghouse for consumer complaints about identity theft. The information you provide can help the Commission and other law enforcement agencies track, investigate and prosecute identity thieves. You can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the Consumer Response Center by phone: toll free 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); TDD:202-326-2502; by mail: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or through the Internet, using the online complaint form. Although the Commission cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations. The FTC publishes free brochures on many consumer issues. For a complete list of publications, write for Best Sellers, Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. 20580; or call toll free (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357), TDD (202) 326-2502. (Web: http://www.ftc.gov)
17. Don't give in. Finally, do not pay any bill or portion of a bill which is a result of identity theft. Do not cover any checks which were written and/or cashed fraudulently. Your credit rating should not be permanently affected, and no legal action should be taken against you. If any merchant, financial institution or collection agency suggests otherwise, simply restate your willingness to cooperate, but don't allow yourself to be coerced into paying fraudulent bills.
Some Preemptive steps you can take now to limit your exposure to this type of theft:
Companies are required to keep "do not sell" lists; if you mail order goods, ask to put on that list. Also, you can remove your name from marketer's unsolicited mailing lists. Write to the Direct marketing Association's Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735. Write to the credit reporting agencies and "opt out" of their preapproved credit lists they sell to companies. Or call (888) 567-8688 to have your name removed from those lists. Obtain a copy of your credit report once a year to review for errors or suspicious entries; the Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you powers to correct inaccurate/improper credit activities.
Some helpful web-sites are: