Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in our country today. Each year more than 10 million Americans become victims of identity theft, a crime that cost them roughly $5 billion dollars. The identity thief can inflict substantial damage on the victim’s assets, credit, and reputation without the victim even being aware of the crime.
Identity theft occurs when a person uses the identification of another person to commit a fraud, theft, or deception, typically for economic gain. By wrongfully acquiring another’s personal data, such as, name, address, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, bank account, passwords, PIN codes, and credit card numbers, impostors use this information in a variety of ways.
Remember the word SCAM -- a simple acronym for ways to protect yourself from ID theft. SCAM stands for:
S – Be stingy with your personal information. Never give out more information than is needed and don’t respond to unsolicited phone calls and e-mails. Keep your bank and credit cards safe. When banking or shopping using the Internet, be sure the site you're using offers a secure check out process. How to determine a secure Web page is to look in your browser's URL address field. Most URL addresses start with "http://". However, the URL address of a secure page will contain the letter "s" for secure. What you should see is "https://". If you don't see the "s", then the site is not secure.
C – Check your financial information regularly. Bank statements and credit card bills should be checked each month for charges you may not have made. Challenge any unusual charges on your statements.
A – Ask for three credit reports a year, one from each of the major credit reporting agencies. They are required to provide a credit report to you free of charge once a year.
M – Maintain careful records. Keep all your bank and sales receipts. Match them up each month with your statements. When shopping on the Internet, print out all receipts or store them on your hard drive as pdf files.
Our brochure offers ten ways to avoid identity theft and step-by-step instructions to help you protect your privacy. Here are some examples of fraudulent uses to be aware of:
- The criminal calls your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, asks to change the mailing address on your credit card account. The criminal then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there's a problem.
- The criminal may open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth and Social Security number. When they use the credit card and do not pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
- The criminal establishes phone or wireless service in your name.
- The criminal may open a bank account in your name and write fraudulent checks on that account.
- The criminal may file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they have incurred under your name or to avoid eviction.
- The criminal may use counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account.
- The criminal may buy cars by taking out auto loans in your name.
- The criminal may give your name to the police during an arrest. If they are released from police custody, but do not show up for their court date, an arrest warrant is issued in your name.
A good way to prevent identity theft is to be careful with your personal information and to shred documents that have this personal information. The county provides a free paper-shredding service to residents through the use of the Mobile Shredder truck.
Use the Identity Theft Victim Quick Response Checklist if you think you are a victim of identity theft.