Articles

Protecting Yourself Against Identity & Credit Card Theft

What to Do if You Become a Victim or Potential Victim
TIPS ON PREVENTION:

Monitor Your Credit Card & Social Security Activity:

1. Monitor your credit report.
Order a copy of your credit report from the three major credit reporting bureaus (see "useful contacts" below) at least once a year to ensure your credit history's accuracy and ascertain that no-one has obtained, and is, fraudulently using your credit. Consider hiring a monitoring service, such as Privacy Guard, that will notify you whenever someone applies for credit in your name or checks your credit history.
2. Monitor your Social Security activity.
Order your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement once a year to check for fraud.
3. Monitor your credit card activity.
Carefully examine your credit card statement(s) when you receive them to verify that all charges were made by you. If you find an error, immediately contact your credit card company. Someone may have obtained your credit card number and had a phony card made up for their personal use. Also, remember to compare your ATM receipts and cashed checks with your bank statements to check for authorized transfers or charges.

Guard Your Personal & Financial Information:
4. Guard your Social Security number.
Provide your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use another type of identifying number whenever possible. Additionally, after applying for a loan, credit card, rental or anything else that requires a credit report, request that your Social Security number on the application be truncated or completely obliterated and your original credit report be shredded before you or returned to you once your application has been processed.
5. Print only your first initial and last name on your checks.
Never include your social security number, your home address or home phone number on your checks. Only have your first initial and last name printed on your checks. This way, should someone take your checkbook he or she will not learn your first name, address and phone number, making it difficult for the thief to steal your identity. He or she will not know where you live to see if he or she can identify who you are.
6. Disclose only the last 4-digits of your credit card number(s).
When writing checks to pay your credit card bills do not include your full credit card number on the check include only the last four digits of your credit card account number on your check. This will prevent anyone handling your check as it passes through the various channels of check processing access to your complete credit card account number.
7. Destroy all documents containing your personal identification and/or financial information.
Always shred or tear completely any correspondence that may contain your personal identification or financial information before discarding it. You may consider investing in a shredder.
8. Destroy old or expired credit cards.
Cut up old or expired credit cards. Close all inactive credit card and bank accounts as well. Even though you don't use them, these accounts appear on your credit report and may be used by thieves.
9. Memorize your PIN number.
Choose a PIN that is easy to memorize, but does not include / correspond to any of your personal identification information, such as your name, street address, telephone number, last 4-digits of your Social Security number or date of birth. If you must write your PIN down, do not keep it with or near your card.
10. Never include your account number(s) on the outside of an envelope or postcard.
11. Consider removing your name from telephone and / or mailing lists.
The three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, all maintain marketing lists that contain your personal information. You may contact these bureaus (see "useful contacts" below) to remove your name from the lists. Also, consider adding your name to the name-deletion lists of the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service used by banks and other marketers. Mail your request to: P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735.

Be Prepared for the Worst:
12. Retain duplicate records.
Make copies of ALL the personal identification documents kept in your wallet. This includes the front and back sides of your license, credit cards and any other form of personal identification. Make sure you have all the account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers. Keep these copies in a safe place at home.
13. Secure your wallet and travel light.
Limit the personal identification documents you keep in your wallet to only those items you will need. Leave all other personal identification, including extra credit cards, at home in a safe place. Do not carry your social security card in your wallet.

Be Alert & Proceed With Caution When Disclosing Personal & Financial Information:
14. Know who you are disclosing your personal identification / information to.
Never disclose your credit card number(s) or personal information over the telephone, the Internet or by mail unless you have initiated the contact and know you can trust that particular individual or company.
15. Don¥t mail payments from home.
Mail your payments from a safe location. Never mail payments from your home. They can easily be stolen from your mailbox and washed clear by chemicals. Mail your payments from the post office.
16. Check for hidden devices / cameras in the vicinity of publicly placed ATM machines, etc., before utilizing their service and entering personal information.
17. Beware of credit card scams.
When using your credit card for purchases make sure you receive "your" credit card back. There have been scams where someone leaves or loses his or her credit card and that person or a friend of that person works in sales and when they obtain your card for a purchase you make, they switch cards and give you the other person's card while they now use "your" card to make purchases. They continue to switch cards and the scam goes on.
18. Beware of Internet scams.
Identity theft via the Internet is a growing problem. Be aware of a widely used Internet scheme known as "phishing." This scheme entails mass E-Mailings under the guise of E-Bay, AOL, or a major bank. The E-Mail claims that because of some "problem" with your account it is necessary to re-confirm your credit card number, social security number, and other personal data. The E-Mail sender hopes that you will take the bait, hence the scheme name: phishing.
19. Use caution when using the Internet. Always make certain that a web site is secure (security protected) prior to keying / entering any personal information.
20. Designate only one credit card for Internet shopping.

If You Suspect Your Identity May Have Been Stolen
TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION:
21. If you lose your wallet or you are robbed of any form of identification, file a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where you lost it or where it was stolen. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime. This is your best protection and it provides the providers with proof of your diligence.
22. If your bank and/or credit cards are lost or stolen close these accounts immediately and contact the fraud departments of any one of the three credit reporting bureaus (see "useful contacts" below) immediately before or immediately after filing a police report to place a fraud alert on your credit file. The fraud alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts, and all three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge.
23. If your social security card and/or driver's license are also lost or stolen contact the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline and/or your local Department of Motor Vehicles office accordingly (see ¥important contacts¥ below).

Social Security Administration: 1-800-269-0271 (Fraud Hotline)
Department of Motor Vehicles: Contact your local DMV office (you may download DMV forms from their web site, in New York, www.nydmv.state.ny.us), and follow the procedures below¥

If your drivers' license or your learners' permit was lost or stolen because of a crime, obtain and complete an MV-78B from a police agency. Make a copy of your completed form for your records. Complete form MV-44 and bring it and the original MV-78B to a DMV office. "No fee applies when both forms (MV-44 & MV-78B) are presented with proof of identity." Fees may be waived for drivers' licenses if they are lost. However, the DMV cannot waive the replacement fee for a non-driver ID if it is lost.
24. Finally, ALWAYS contact the Federal Trade Commission ID Theft Hotline to report the loss or theft, either through their web site: www.consumer.gov/idtheft or by telephone at (877) 438-4338. The Federal Trade Commission has been designated by the Federal Government as the clearing house for all Identity Theft Crimes. The Federal Trade Commission can assist you in placing "alerts" on your credit accounts, provide you with an ID Theft Affidavit form, may share your complaint with other law enforcement agencies, and provide other supporting information to assist you in resolving the identity theft crime.

PRIMARY CONTACTS:

Credit Bureaus:

Equifax: www.equifax.com
Fraud line: 1-800-525-6285
Credit report line: 1-800-685-1111
P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374

Experian (formerly TRW): www.experian.com
Credit report line: 1-888-397-3742
Fraud line: 1-888-397-3742
To report fraud by mail: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
To order your report by mail: P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013

Trans Union: www.tuc.com
Fraud line: 1-800-680-7289.
Credit report line: 1-800-888-4213 / 1-800-916-8800
To report fraud by mail: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834
To order your report by mail: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022

Department of Motor Vehicles: www.nydmv.state.ny.us (in New York)

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal clearinghouse for identity theft complaints. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, it helps victims of identity theft by providing them with information to help resolve the financial and other problems that result from identity theft. The FTC also may refer victims' complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for action.
Contact the FTC by calling its toll-free hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338), or by writing to:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 02058
or by accessing its Web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. The FTC also provides very detailed information about identity theft through this Web address: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheft.htm

Social Security Administration: www.ssa.gov
T: 800-269-0271 (Fraud Hotline)
P.O. Box 17768
Baltimore, MD 21235
F: 410-597-0118
E-mail: oig.hotline@ssa.gov

IMPORTANT CONTACTS:

Contact the following bank regulators if you have persistent problems resolving your identity fraud problems with a financial institution.

The New York State Banking Department is the primary regulator for New York State-licensed and stated-chartered financial entities, including domestic banks, foreign agencies, branches and representative offices, savings institutions and trust companies and other financial institutions operating in New York including mortgage bankers and brokers, check cashers, money transmitters, and licensed lenders, among others.

To file a complaint, mail to:
Consumer Services Division
New York State Banking Department
2 Rector Street
New York, NY 10006-1894

You may also contact this agency by calling 1-800-522-3330
or by accessing its Web site address at www.banking.state.ny.us,
or by e-mail at consumer@banking.state.ny.us.

The Banking Department's Web site also lists information about the fees charged by various banks.

The Better Business Bureau Serving Metropolitan New York (BBB) can be contacted if you would like to check the Reliability Rating of a company or if you have a problem resolving fraudulent charges.

For immediate assistance, call 212-533-6200. The charge is $3.80 plus applicable tax, charged to a major credit card. Consumers may also call 1-900-555-4BBB. The charge is 95 cents per minute; the average call costs $3.80.

For free information or to file a complaint by mail, write to:
257 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010-7384
or fax your information to 212-477-4912
Web site: http://www.bbb.org/bbbcomplaints/Welcome.asp

Direct Marketing Association
To remove your name from mailing or telephone lists, mail your request to:
P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is one of the federal criminal law enforcement agencies that investigates cases of identity theft. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory. You can also access the FBI's Web site at www.fbi.gov.

Internet Fraud Complaint Center: www.ifccfbi.gov

The Office of the Comptroller of Currency regulates national banks, which can usually be identified because they have the words "national" or "national association" in their titles or the letters N.A. or NT&SA following their titles. If you are unable to resolve a complaint with the bank yourself, contact the Office of the Comptroller of Currency Consumer Assistance Group at:
1301 McKinney Street, Suite 3710
Houston, TX 77010
You may also contact this agency by telephone at 1-800-613-6743 (business days 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. CST)
or by accessing its Web site at www.occ.treas.gov
or by e-mail at Customer.Assistance@occ.treas.gov

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) conducts audits, investigations, and inspections of education programs and operations. Anyone knowing of fraud, waste, or abuse of Department of Education funds should contact the OIG Fraud Hotline to make a confidential report.

The Office of Thrift Supervision regulates savings banks and savings and loan banks having the word "Federal" in their name or which use the initials FSB (federal savings bank) or FSLA (federal savings and loan association). You can contact this agency by writing to the:

Office of Thrift Supervision, Northeast Region Consumer Affairs 10 Exchange Place Centre, 18th Floor Jersey City, NJ 07302

You may also contact this agency by telephone at 1-800-842-6929
or by accessing its Web site at www.ots.treas.gov
or by e-mail at consumer.complaint@ots.treas.gov.

The U.S. Postal Inspector can assist if an identity thief stole your mail to get new credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-screened offers, tax information, or if a thief has falsified change-of-address forms. Contact your local post office for the phone number for the nearest postal inspection service or check the Postal Service Web site at www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.

Other Useful Sites on Identity Theft

This page links to websites of other organizations. The FTC does not necessarily endorse the views expressed on these websites or guarantee the accuracy or completeness of information on them. Please note that these sites may track visitor viewing habits.
* FBI Internet Fraud Complaint Center - http://www.ifccfbi.gov
* Federal Bureau of Investigation - http://norfolk.fbi.gov/1999/ident.htm
* Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Information - http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/
* Fight Identity Theft - http://www.fightidentitytheft.com
* Georgia Stop Identity Theft Site http://www.stopidentitytheft.org
* Law Library Exchange Identity -- Identity Theft Resource Guide -
www.llrx.com/features/idtheft.htm
* Mari Frank's Identity Theft Survival Kit - http://www.identitytheft.org/id_theft_kit.htm
* Michigan State Univ. Identity Theft University-Business Partnership - http://www.cj.msu.edu/~outreach/identity
* New York State Better Business Bureau tips on detecting & avoiding ID theft. http://www.newyork.bbb.org
* The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) conducts audits, investigations, and inspections of education programs and operations. Anyone knowing of fraud, waste, or abuse of Department of Education funds should contact the OIG Fraud Hotline to make a confidential report. http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/misused/index.html
* The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. A non-profit consumer education, research, and advocacy program http://www.newyork.bbb.org
* U.S. Dept. of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/idtheft.html
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