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News Featured Story Protect Yourself From Identity Theft Posted: February 14, 2007
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, estimates that as many as nine million Americans have their identity stolen every year. It’s a sobering statistic, but there are a number of measures you can take to protect your personal information and minimize the risk of becoming a victim of this crime. That was the message of Tuesday’s “Munch and Learn” session, where Supervising Examiner Felix Bustelo and Bank Examiner Muriel Payne teamed up in a presentation titled "Identity Theft: Consumer Beware and Your Credit Report. " Muriel ran through the many ways skilled identity thieves can get access to your personal information. These include: stealing your purse or wallet; “phishing” online or “pre-texting” on the phone by posing as a representative from a legitimate company and claiming there is a problem with your account. They try to extract your account number, social security number and other private information from you; “dumpster diving” or rummaging through your trash, the trash of businesses, and public trash dumps to find personal details; stealing it from your home; stealing your mail, including bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks and tax information; filing a change of address form with the post office to divert your mail to another location.
Image from the cover of the FTC's guide on ID Theft (June 2005)
“Once they have your name and social security number, that’s it,” said Muriel. With those two key pieces of personal information, identify thieves can open up credit cards, establish phone or wireless services, open bank accounts and write bad checks, make counterfeit checks or credit or debit cards, authorize electronic funds from your bank account, take out loans, file fraudulent tax returns and file for bankruptcy to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred ---- all in your name. They may even give your name to police during an arrest. If they don’t show up for the court date, a warrant for arrest is issued --- again, in your name. Muriel also offered a few tips for keeping your personal information safe: never carry your social security card with you or write the number on a check; shred things like old charge card receipts, credit offers you get in the mail, expired charge cards, copies of credit card applications, checks and bank statements; install anti-virus software on your personal computer; keep personal information in your home locked in a safe place. How to tell if your ID has been stolen You’ll be able to tell if you’re the victim of an identity theft if you: fail to get bills or other mail (this may signal that a thief has submitted a change of address form); get credit cards for which you did not reply; are denied credit for no apparent reason; get calls from debt collectors or companies about merchandise or services you didn’t buy. Monitor your credit report One of the best ways to protect yourself against identify theft is to regularly monitor activity on your credit report. Felix reminded the audience that a credit report is a record of your payment history that is sold to third parties --- such as creditors, employers and landlords --- by the three consumer credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. The report details your name, birth date, social security number, employer and spouse’s name, employment history, homeownership, income and previous addresses.
It also documents what Felix calls “the good, the bad and the ugly”: all the accounts you have open with different creditors, the amount of credit extended to you, past due/delinquent payments, referrals to collection agencies, inquiries made by creditors and entities who have asked for your credit history in the past year, a record of individuals and businesses who have asked for your credit history for employment purposes in the last two years, and any bankruptcies, foreclosures and tax liens. What is not provided to third parties (but is still included on your credit report) are inquiries by companies for pre-approved offers of credit or insurance, account reviews, and medical account information. Delinquencies in making medical payments, however, are not provided on the credit report, Felix noted. Steps to fight back against ID theft If you believe you’ve been the victim of identify theft, here are four immediate steps to take: contact the fraud department of any of the credit reporting agencies and have a fraud alert placed on your credit report. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will also place an alert on your report; close any accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently; file a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft occurred; file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Get a free report Under the Fair & Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act, consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months from the three consumer reporting companies. For example, if you order a free report on March 10, 2007, you can order another one after March 10, 2008. You can order your three reports through www.annualcreditreport.com, which is the only Web site authorized under FACT to provide a free copy. While the credit report is free, there is a fee for obtaining your credit score from each reporting company. You can purchase a credit score when you request your free annual credit report through the site. Felix cautioned everyone to beware of imposter sites that advertise free reports. They are not mandated under the FACT Act and there are usually hidden fees attached. He also suggested staggering your requests for your free reports to help monitor accuracy and completeness of information. Credit report errors If you don’t think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, but you do find errors on your report, contact the credit reporting companies in writing and tell them what you think is incorrect. The reporting companies will investigate within 30 days. Inaccurate information must be corrected by the creditor and the credit reporting company has to provide you with the written results and another free report if a change is made. “The onus is on you to notify the reporting company so they can begin the investigation process,” Felix concluded. Questions: Contact Felix Bustelo (x6413) or Muriel Payne (x2190 ) with inquiries. Related links View Felix’s PowerPoint slide presentation To learn more about the crime of identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site. Tired of having your mailbox cluttered with unsolicited credit card and other offers? Just opt out.
— Suzanne Davis Green, Internal Communication Have comments or questions on this story? Have a story idea? E-mail the Internal Communication team. Featured Story Archive >>
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