What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft involves acquiring key pieces of someone’s identifying information, such as name, address, date of birth, social security number, and mother’s maiden name, in order to impersonate them. This information enables the identity thief to commit numerous forms of fraud which include, but are not limited to, taking over the victim’s financial accounts, opening new bank accounts, purchasing automobiles, applying for loans, credit cards, and social security benefits, renting apartments, and establishing services with utility and phone companies.
How Your Identity Is Stolen?
Avoid identity theft by recognizing the variety of methods identity thieves use to steal your personal information.
- 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 – These scams occur when a con artist impersonates a bank, credit card, or e-commerce company and sends you an email or a pop-up window will open asking you to give them your personal information. Although these emails or pop-up windows may appear to be real, they are not.
- 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 for tax information. They steal personnel records from their employers, or bribe employees who have access.
Deter Identity Theft
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 over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact and know your information will be safe.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date. For more information visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov.
- 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 are having work done in your house.
- Be nosy – if someone asks for your personal information, find out what it will be used for and why. Do not give out information over the phone if you did not initiate the conversation. Instead, hang up the phone and call back at a corresponding phone number to verify the caller’s legitimacy.
It’s Your Identity – Keep It Safe
While consumers with high incomes are the preferred prey of identity thieves, every consumer is a potential target. Even though it may be impossible to totally eliminate the chances of becoming a victim of identity theft, there are many preventive steps a consumer can take to secure their financial identity.
- Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year:
P.O. Box 105873 – Atlanta, GA – 30348
P.O. Box 390 – Springfield, PA – 19064
Experian Information Solutions -
P.O. Box 949 – Allen, TX – 75013
- Mail payments for bills from post office collection boxes instead of your home mailbox.
- Tear or shred charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, expired credit cards and credit card offers before discarding into the trash.
- Store Social Security cards, credit cards, cancelled and extra checks, passports and any additional identity documentation in a secure place.
- Remove extraneous information such as middle name, phone number, Social Security number or driver’s license number from your checks.
- Review credit card, telephone, cellular phone and bank statements for irregularities and be aware of your billing cycles. Contact creditors immediately if you find a discrepancy. Close all accounts that are no longer needed or used. Write the company a letter and ask them to verify, in writing that the account has been closed.
“Opt Out” Information
Unsolicited mail, such as credit card offers, is an easy way for people with bad intentions to access your personal information. One way to lessen this possiblity is to “opt out” of the offers that are sent to you. This does not fully eliminate the offers you receive as more than one company may be sending you offers that you will require you to “opt out”. This will lessen the possibility of your private information becoming available to unscrupulous persons.
In most cases, the Truth in Lending Act limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card. The Fair Credit Act established procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts. This includes fraudulent charges on accounts.
IMPORTANT: In order for these laws to be of benefit to you, it is essential that the fraud be reported within 60 days.
Report Identity Theft to:
Equifax Credit Bureau, Fraud
Experian Information Solutions
TransUnion Credit Bureau, Fraud
Federal Trade Commission
Social Security Administration
U.S. Secret Service:
U.S. Postal Inspectors:
Office of the Attorney General of Florida:
Pinellas County Consumer Protection:
Federal Bureau of Investigation:
State of Florida: