They are crime victims. They have been denied insurance, denied credit, become ill from stress, lost jobs, been arrested, and forced into bankruptcy. They say the same things other crime victims say: “I never thought it would happen to me.” “It has ruined my life.” and “I don’t know how it could have happened.” The number of victims has doubled every year, for the last five years. The cost to individuals and businesses last year alone was $53 billion. Six states still have no laws on the books in reference to this crime. Sadly, these consumers have fallen victim to a type of crime that businesses, government agencies, and even law enforcement don’t yet fully understand. Meanwhile, the vast-majority have no specifics on how they became victims. Unless you learn your options and take precautions it could happen to you. The crime is called Identity Theft, and YOU are at risk.
Thankfully, Credit Advisors Foundation can help! We can assist you to set up a privacy shield making use of the superior services offered through your debt management program. CAF can also show you needed areas of improvement in your current home practices.
Theives gain access
to information in
First, how do the thieves gain access to the information they need to take over your identity? They will do the expected: steal your wallet or purse, or break into your home. They will also attempt the unexpected, like go through your garbage, pretend to be part of a government agency or the utilities and ask for the information. Just like you, thieves shop by mail or the internet. The thieves have been known to steal mail from your mailbox. (Is that why you never got that creditor statement?) They will go through the dumpsters at businesses for ‘useful’ information. (Always know the security practices of a business that you share vital personal information with: do they shred all sensitive information like applications and bank card receipts like CAF or just throw them in the dumpster? Who, including their employees, as access to your vital information in their possession?)
What will identity thieves do with your information once they get it? They pretend to be you. They apply for credit cards, apartments, auto loans, even mortgages. They open phone or wireless service, open bank accounts and write bad checks. Create counterfeit checks or debit cards and use them. And when these activities are interrupted by law enforcement they give your name. Identity thieves will even file bankruptcy in your name to avoid paying debts or to delay evictions.
What can you do to protect yourself? Create a system and secure your information and financial records in your home. Before you throw it out, shred sensitive material. (See the article on page two.) Guard your mail. Bring your mail in as quickly as possible, especially if you have an unlocked mailbox like most of us. If you are traveling and will be unable to pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service and have a postal hold placed on your delivery until you return. (The number to call: 1-800-275-8777) When sending mail, drop it in a post office collection box or at your local post office. Unless you have initiated the contact or are sure who you are dealing with, don’t give out personal information on the phone. Use the same precautions on the internet.
Stay alert. If your bills don’t arrive according to your billing cycles contact your creditor. Thieves have accessed accounts before and changed the billing address to hide their activities. Be cautious of promotions. Identity thieves also use phony promotions to scam information from you.
Review your credit report on an annual basis. At CAF we do this for every client as part of our basic service. The talented, knowledgeable folks at CAF review each report for you, comparing the information you’ve given to the report itself. The CAF counselors contact clients promptly if there are differences between the two and discuss what options are available to head off any problems. Worse case scenario, the CAF counselors will share tactics to use to confirm and report identity theft.
“Don’t carry your social security card; leave it in a secured place.” advises the FTC. Give out social security numbers only when absolutely necessary. Question how the information will be used, why it is needed, and what will happen if you do not give the information. Can you choose to keep it confidential?
If, like so many consumers, you use a computer at home protecting your personal information is important. The FTC recommends using a firewall to stop internet “invaders”, keeping your virus protection updated, and don’t download files sent to you by strangers. If you must store financial information on your computer use a password. Again, the FTC recommends, “a combination of letter (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols.” Avoid saving your password into automatic log-in features and always log off if you leave your computer unattended.
In our society fighting crime and protecting yourself from criminals has changed. But the consequences of ignoring these issues could effect you for years to come. Be smart, use caution, and get as much information as you can to protect you, your family, and your good name. To contact our counselors for information call 1-888-942-9027.
If you suspect identity theft, report the fraud to the following organizations:
The three national consumer reporting agencies. Ask all three (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to mark your credit report with a “fraud alert” designation, and to send a copy of your file.
Each creditor granting unauthorized credit or services. Contact the fraud department specifically and find out what documentation (FTC affidavit and/or police report) they will need for resolution.
Your local police department. Ask for a copy of the report or at least the report number to forward to creditors and credit reporting agencies.
To reach the FTC for more information: FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline: toll-free 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) TDD 202-326-2502 Mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington D.C. 20580 Internet: www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
The consequences of ignoring identity theft issues could effect you for years to come.