|Introduction to Identity Theft
Identity theft is one of the
fastest growing crimes in the United States. This is because the
risk of apprehension is low while the potential profit is great.
In order to prosecute these offenses investigators need the
evidence of the crime – original credit card receipts, checks,
credit applications, etc. – and often it is difficult to obtain
these items. Furthering the difficulty is the fact that many
identity theft incidents are done entirely over the phone.
Many people do not know exactly
what identity theft is: identity theft is when someone obtains,
uses, or possesses the personal identifying information (which
includes name, social security number, date of birth, credit
card/account numbers, and a whole laundry list of other
information that is spelled out in Ohio Revised Code Section
2913.49 (A)) of another (whether living or dead, but it must be a
real person) in order to fraudulently obtain credit, property, or
services or to avoid the payment of a debt or other
legal obligation. This criminal charge is a misdemeanor unless the
amount of the loss exceeds $500. It is usually a companion
charge to other crimes such as forgery and theft.
One of the more commonly seen forms
of identity theft is credit card fraud. In this situation someone
uses another person’s credit card number (not the card itself)
to make purchases. Other ways a person may have their identity
compromised are when people gain utilities, cellular phones,
credit cards and loans with another’s personal
identifying information. People also “counterfeit” checks with an
individual’s checking account number and then write checks against
their actual account. Along these same lines people can open a
checking account with another’s information and then write checks
against the fraudulent account.
The logical question at this point
is “How did someone obtain my personal information?” Here are some
of the more common methods of obtaining your information:
- Theft of wallets/purses – most
people keep their driver’s license in these items and the
license contains most of your personal information on it. People
can use this information to open accounts and order credit
- Theft of mail – people can steal
checks that have been made out to pay bills to gain the account
number off of the check. Bank statements and other documents
with sensitive information can also be taken.
- Employees with access to
personal information – there are people that buy
personal information from others that have access to it.
- Trash – many people simply throw
away their cancelled checks, account statements, and credit card
applications. ‘Dumpster divers’ can recover these from the
- Change of address forms – by
filling out a change of address form a person’s mail can be
re-routed to another address where the information contained in
it can be used.
- Internet – it is possible to
have your information accessed via the Internet when using a
credit card number on a non-secure site.
What to do if you Become a
Victim of Identity Theft
- The first thing that you should
do is report the fraud to the three major credit bureaus (Trans
Union, Equifax, and Experian). Request that they ‘flag’
your account so that creditors cannot grant credit to your file
unless you directly authorize it. It is also important to get a
copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus
to check for other possible fraud. Make sure to check all three
of them because each may have different information from the
others. The phone numbers to do this are included
at the bottom of this page.
you should file a police report with the police agency that has
the crime occurred.
If you are unable to file a report
with the agency having jurisdiction contact your local police
agency for a report. Even though your local agency may not be
able to investigate the offense, at least a report will be on
file documenting the identity theft. Make sure that you obtain
a copy of the report.
- You will need to contact all of
the creditors that are involved with the incident to notify them
of the crime. The creditors will probably need copies of
your police report.
- File a report with the
Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC maintains a
huge database of identity theft information. They also produce a
comprehensive identity theft booklet. Their contact information
is also listed at the
bottom of this page.
Who to Contact For . . .
Stolen checks/credit cards – notify
your bank/card issuer immediately to report the theft. It may be
necessary to get new account numbers assigned. If your
account number itself has been used
contact your credit card issuer to advise them of the fraudulent charge(s). The issuer will then advise you of how to go about
getting the charges removed from your account.
Utility fraud – if someone has
obtained utilities (e.g., gas, electric,
phone) with your information contact the utility that opened the
account and notify their fraud department. If the utility is
unwilling to assist you then notify the Public Utilities
Commission for the state that is involved.
telephone/telecommunication fraud – most cellular companies have
fraud departments that can assist you. Another alternative would
be to contact the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for
assistance by phone at
1-888-CALL-FCC, or via
their website at http://ftp.fcc.gov/cgb/.
Unauthorized changes of
address/stolen mail – contact your local
United States Postal Inspector to report the incident.
Illegal use of a driver’s license –
contact your state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles to determine if someone has obtained a driver’s license
using your name and/or
Number fraud – if you believe that
someone is using your social security number to gain employment,
contact the Social
Security Administration (SSA) at 1-800-269-0271.
Income tax fraud – if you believe
that someone is using your social security number to file a tax
return, contact the
Service (IRS) at 1-800-829-0433.
To stop getting pre-approved credit
applications – call 1-888-5-OPTOUT to remove your name from the
list that generates these applications.
Identity Theft Prevention and
There are several things that you
can do to both prevent becoming a victim of identity theft and minimize the damage caused by identity
theft. Some of the tips are:
- Check your credit with the three
credit bureaus yearly (twice a year is even better). Look for
accounts that are not yours as well as addresses listed that do
not belong to you. If you do notice an address that is not yours
U.S. Postal Inspectors.
- Do not give out your personal
information over the phone to people that call you in an effort
to sell you something. If they are reputable they will be
willing to mail you an application; you can then determine if it
is legitimate by contacting the
Bureau or some similar organization.
- Never give out your personal
information to anyone while on a cellular phone. This is because
the transmission is not secure and
others can monitor your calls.
- Check all of your monthly
account statements for unauthorized charges. It is also a good
idea to make sure that, in addition to balancing your checkbook
every month, you periodically call and
verify your balance.
- Deposit outgoing mail in a U.S.
Mail receptacle – not your mailbox (with the flag up,
alerting people that there is mail in the box). If you go on
vacation stop your mail with the post office. Do not leave mail
in your mailbox for any extended
period of time.
- Destroy all pre-approved credit
applications as well as cancelled checks and bank statements
that are no longer needed.
- Retain all carbons/copies of
charge slips so that they can be properly destroyed.
- Be cautious as to where you
store personal information in your home – especially if you
share the residence with other people.
- Never have your social security
number printed on your checks. Do not allow merchants to write
your social security number on your checks either.
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20580
P.O. Box 674402
Houston, TX 77267-4402
To order a copy of your credit report – 1-800-685-1111
To report fraud: 1-800-525-6285
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013
To order a copy of your credit report and/or report fraud:
760 Sproul Road
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
To order a copy of your credit report: 1-800-916-8800
To report fraud: 1-800-680-7289