By Kent Latimer, ANAD DOOFebruary 16, 2012
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Perhaps you saw the Feb. 4, 2012, Anniston Star article indicating an increase in the complaints of identity theft.
And perhaps, like me, you have been the victim of identity theft.
The information below provides good measures individuals can take to combat identity theft.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information -- like your name, Social Security number or credit card number -- without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. The Federal Trade Commission estimates as many as 10 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.
Identity theft is serious. People whose identities have been stolen can spend hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record.
Consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities or be denied loans for education, housing or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. They may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
The potential for damage, loss and stress is considerable.
How do thieves steal an identity?
Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information. For identity thieves, your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers or other financial account information are as good as gold.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information:
• They may steal your mail, wallet or purse.
• They may get personal information from you by posing as legitimate companies through e-mail, in a practice known as "phishing." Or they might lie to you on the phone.
• They may take your information from businesses or other institutions by stealing personnel records, bribing or conning an employee who has access to these records or breaking into your records electronically.
Some identity theft victims even report that their information has been stolen by someone they know.
Avoid ID theft: Deter, Detect, Defend
While nothing can guarantee you won't become a victim of identity theft; you can take specific steps to minimize your risk and minimize the damage if a problem develops.
It's about following the "3 D's" of identity theft protection -- Deter, Detect, Defend.
Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information.
Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact and know who you are dealing with.
Never click links sent in unsolicited e-mails. Instead, type in a Web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer and keep them up-to-date. Visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
Don't use an obvious password, like your birth date, your mother's maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or have work done in your house.
Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.
Be alert to signs that require immediate attention:
• Mail or bills that do not arrive as expected.
• Unexpected credit cards or account statements.
• Denials of credit for no apparent reason.
• Calls or letters about purchases you did not make.
• Your credit report. Credit reports have information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history.
• Your financial statements. Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make.
Order your credit report:
• The law requires the major nationwide credit reporting companies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- to give you a free copy of your credit report each year, if you ask for it.
• Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies, to order your free credit reports each year. You can complete an Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. The form may be downloaded at www.ftc.gov/freereports.
Defend against identity theft as soon as you suspect a problem.
Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make certain changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide credit reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-¬day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient:
• Equifax: 800-525-6285
• Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
• TransUnion: 800-680-7289
Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
Close accounts. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
• Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
• Use the identity theft Affidavit at www.ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
• Ask for written verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
• Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
• File a police report. File a report with law enforcement officials to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
• Report your complaint to the FTC. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations. This can be done online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or by phone at 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or via teleprinter, teletypewriter or teletype printer at 866-653-4261.
SOURCE: Federal Trade Commission Interactive Toolkit -- Deter-Detect-Defend: Avoid ID Theft: Fighting Back Against ID Theft available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt06.pdf).