Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How Identity Theft Can Affect You

How Identity Theft Can Affect You
By: Ellen Fogarty Vice President Security Office at Pioneer Savings Bank

Identity thieves frequently open new accounts in your name. They often apply for new credit cards using information, make charges, and leave the bills unpaid. It is also common for them to set up telephone or utility service in your name and not pay for it. Some victims have found that identity thieves applied for loans, apartments, and mortgages, or print counterfeit checks in a victim's name.

Thieves also often access your existing accounts. They may take money from your bank accounts, make charges on your credit cards, and use your checks and credit to make down payments for cars, furniture, and other expensive items. They may even file for government benefits including unemployment insurance and tax refunds.

Four out of five victims have no idea how an identity thief obtained their personal information. Among those who think they know what happened, many believe the identity theft occurred when their purse of wallet was stolen or lost. Thieves also steal identities from the trash, and it can occur at home, at work, or at a business.

Group identity theft has become a major problem for consumers. A thief gains access to a place that keeps records for many people. Targets have included stores, fitness centers, car dealers, schools, hospitals, and even credit bureaus. Thieves may either use the stolen identities themselves or sell them to other criminals.

"Pretexting" is a method of identity theft that is on the rise. The identity thief poses as a legitimate representative of a survey firm, bank, Internet service provider, employer, landlord, or even a government agency. The thief contacts you through the mail, telephone, or e-mail, and attempts to get you to reveal your information, usually by asking you to "verify" some data.

Victims of identity theft often find that someone they know has committed the crime. Roommates, hired help, and landlords all have access to private information. Identity theft within families is also fairly common.

Identity theft often goes undetected. Within a month of being committed, half of the crimes still remain unnoticed. One in ten stays hidden for two or more years. Identity thieves may change "your" address on an account so that you won't ever receive the bills with the fraudulent charges on them. They will often pay the minimum balances on accounts they have opened, so as to avoid calling attention to the account and having it cut off.

Steps to Prevent Fraud

In the home, keep personal information safe, especially if you have roommates or are having any work done in your home. Don't keep Personal Identification Numbers (PIN's) near your checkbook, ATM card, or debit card. Shred any papers with confidential information before you throw them out, even the junk mail. Anything with an account number can be used in identity theft.

Since many identity thefts are traced to having a purse or wallet stolen, carry as few cards with identification and personal information as possible. Don't take your social security number, and bring as few credit cards as you can. You should be wary of any mail, telephone, or Internet request for information, it could be "pretexting". Unless you initiated the contact with a business, don't give out any confidential information such as your credit card number, social security number, PIN, birth date, or even your mother's maiden name. Check your banking and credit statements soon after you receive them and make sure there is no unexplained activity. Keep track of when in the month each of your bills usually arrives. If a bill does not arrive on time, call the company to make sure no changes have been made to your account. Be particularly wary of giving out your social security number. Few institutions, businesses granting you credit, employers filling out tax forms for you or government agencies, have any reasonable cause to know your social security number. However, a business may refuse to serve you if you do not give them the information they request. It is up to you if you still want to do business with the company.

Many people don't realize they are victims of identity theft until long after the initial crime occurred. To stop the crimes as soon as possible make sure you carefully check you credit reports regularly. Contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies to order a copy of your credit report at least once each year. Consider canceling credit cards you haven't used in a long time. You can also consider adding a "fraud alert" to make it harder for thieves to open new accounts without your knowledge. With a fraud alert, the credit agency has to call you to confirm any request it receives to open a new account in your name. If you decide you want this service, just contact the credit reporting agencies. The three agencies to contact are as follows: Equifax - ..:NAMESPACE PREFIX = SKYPE /> (800) 525-6285 , Experian (800) 397-3742 , TransUnion

(800) 680-7289 .

Reduce the circulation of your information through the mail. Stop receiving credit offers by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT . You can also reduce direct mail marketing and telemarketing by contacting the Direct Marketing Association.

Identity Theft "Article from the FTC website"

Identity Theft "Article from the FTC website"

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft. The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn't make-or until you're contacted by a debt collector.

Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record. Some 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. In rare cases, they may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.

How do thieves steal an identity?

Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold. Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:

Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.

Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.

Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.

Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.

Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.

Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.

Mission Possible Investigations can help you sort through one of the most agonizing experiences in the world. Even something as simple as running a full background check on yourself can help you start to uncover the any red flags pop up about your personal or financial background. Investigators can help you find the person who stole your identity and help you get back on track.

What Thieves do with a stolen identity. "From the FTC"

What Thieves do with a stolen identity.

(from the FTC)

Once they have your personal information, identity thieves use it in a variety of ways.

Credit card fraud:

They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the cards and don't pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on your credit report.

They may change the billing address on your credit card so that you no longer receive bills, and then run up charges on your account. Because your bills are now sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there's a problem.

Phone or utilities fraud:

They may open a new phone or wireless account in your name, or run up charges on your existing account.

They may use your name to get utility services like electricity, heating, or cable TV.

Bank/finance fraud:

They may create counterfeit checks using your name or account number.

They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.

They may clone your ATM or debit card and make electronic withdrawals your name, draining your accounts.

They may take out a loan in your name.

Government documents fraud:

They may get a driver's license or official ID card issued in your name but with their picture.

They may use your name and Social Security number to get government benefits.

They may file a fraudulent tax return using your information.

Other fraud:

They may get a job using your Social Security number.

They may rent a house or get medical services using your name.

They may give your personal information to police during an arrest. If they don't show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.


Ten people were indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle in connection with a scheme to illegally obtain confidential information on more than 12,000 citizens across the country. To obtain confidential tax, medical and employment information, workers at BNT Investigations in Belfair, Washington, would pose as another individual to get government agencies including the IRS, the Social Security Administration, and various state employment security offices to provide confidential information. The year-long investigation dubbed, "Operation Dialing for Dollars," also revealed that some workers posed as representatives of doctors' offices to get medical or pharmacy records.

"This indictment alleges that private investigators across the country illegally obtained confidential information and sold it to the clients who hired them," said United States Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan. "This is a very serious matter, the investigation is continuing and it is our intention to go after these 'clients' if we can prove that they knew this information was obtained illegally."