How Identity Theft Occurs
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information. For example:
- They get information from businesses or other institutions by:
- stealing records from their employer,
- bribing an employee who has access to these records, or
- hacking into the organization’s computers.
- They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses or dumps in a practice known as “dumpster diving.”
- They obtain credit reports by abusing their employer’s authorized access to credit reports or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to the information.
- They steal credit and debit card numbers as your card is processed by using a special information storage device in a practice known as “skimming.”
- They steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
- They steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information.
- They complete a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location.
- They steal personal information from your home.
- They scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may:
- Go on spending sprees using your credit and debit card account numbers to buy “big-ticket” items like computers that they can easily sell.
- Open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth, and SSN. When they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
- Change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on the account. Because the bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there’s a problem.
- Take out auto loans in your name.
- Establish phone or wireless service in your name.
- Counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account. Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
- File for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred, or to avoid eviction.
- Give your name to the police during an arrest. If they are released and don’t show up for their court date, an arrest warrant could be issued in your name.
If Your Identity’s Been Stolen
Even if you’ve been very careful about keeping your personal information to yourself, an identity thief can strike. If you suspect that your personal information has been used to commit fraud or theft, take the following four steps right away. Remember to follow up all calls in writing; send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when; and keep copies for your files.
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your credit reports.
Call the toll-free fraud number of anyone of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts on your credit report, and all three reports will be sent to you free of charge.
Equifax — To report fraud, call: 1-800-525-6285, and write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian — To report fraud, call: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742), and write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion — To report fraud, call: 1-800-680-7289, and write: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Once you receive your reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries you didn’t initiate, accounts you didn’t open, and unexplained debts on your true accounts. You also should check that information such as your SSN, address(es), name or initial, and employers are correct. Inaccuracies in this information also may be due to typographical errors. Nevertheless, whether the inaccuracies are due to fraud or error, you should notify the credit bureau as soon as possible by telephone and in writing. You should continue to check your reports periodically, especially in the first year after you’ve discovered the theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred. The automated “one-call” fraud alert process only works for the initial placement of your fraud alert. Orders for additional credit reports or renewals of your fraud alerts must be made separately at each of the three major credit bureaus.
2. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
Credit accounts include all accounts with banks, credit card companies and other lenders, and phone companies, utilities, ISPs, and other service providers.
If you’re closing existing accounts and opening new ones, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords.
If there are fraudulent charges or debits, ask the company about the following forms for disputing those transactions:
- For new unauthorized accounts, ask if the company accepts the ID Theft Affidavit (available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/resources/forms/affidavit.pdf). If they don’t, ask the representative to send you the company’s fraud dispute forms.
- For your existing accounts, ask the representative to send you the company’s fraud dispute forms.
- If your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card as soon as you can. Get a new card with a new PIN.
If your checks have been stolen or misused, close the account and ask your bank to notify the appropriate check verification service. While no federal law limits your losses if someone steals your checks and forges your signature, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from a forged check, but they also require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely way that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.
You also should contact these major check verification companies. Ask that retailers who use their databases not accept your checks.
TeleCheck — 1-800-710-9898 or 927-0188
Certegy, Inc. — 1-800-437-5120
International Check Services — 1-800-631-9656
Call SCAN (1-800-262-7771) to find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name.
3. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
Keep a copy of the report. You may need it to validate your claims to creditors. If you can’t get a copy, at least get the report number.
4. File a complaint with the FTC.
By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC also can refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and companies for further action. The FTC enters the information you provide into their secure database.
For more information on how to protect your Identity please click here for the full 20 + page report from the Federal Trade Commission.
What is Phishing and Pharming?
Phishing attacks use both social engineering and technical subterfuge to steal consumers' personal identity data and financial account credentials. Social-engineering schemes use 'spoofed' e-mails to lead consumers to counterfeit websites designed to trick recipients into divulging financial data such as credit card numbers, account usernames, passwords and social security numbers. Hijacking brand names of banks, e-retailers and credit card companies, phishers often convince recipients to respond. Technical subterfuge schemes plant crimeware onto PCs to steal credentials directly, often using Trojan keylogger spyware. Pharming crimeware misdirects users to fraudulent sites or proxy servers, typically through DNS hijacking or poisoning.
Consumer Advice: How to Avoid Phishing Scams
To learn more about Spyware and how to protect against it click on the link below:
How to protect your computer
We recommend you read the articles linked below to learn more about how you can protect your computer from being compromised:
- Before You Connect a New Computer to the Internet from US-CERT
- Keep Your Computer Secure at Home from Microsoft
Also check with your Anti-Virus vendor and be sure to always have the latest Virus definitions loaded on your computer.