Identity theft (or “true name fraud”) occurs when a criminal obtains and uses a consumer’s personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, insurance information, and Social Security numbers to purchase goods or services fraudulently. Generally, criminals will do this by opening new accounts in your name, purchasing products, and then leaving you to pay the bill.
In this age of information, criminals can acquire personal information about others much easier than before. Many legitimate businesses share or sell information about their customers without knowing how it will be used or misused. Now more then ever, consumers need to be proactive about protecting their personal information.
How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
- Order a copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three national credit-reporting agencies (Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax) to check for inaccuracies and fraudulent use of your accounts. Monitoring your credit card statements and your credit report are the most important steps you can take to safeguard your credit identity.
- Do not throw out credit card statements, bills, insurance papers, or bank statements where a criminal could retrieve them from the trash. If you must throw them out, first shred or destroy them.
- When making a credit card purchase from a retailer, ask for credit card carbons if the retailer is not using carbonless forms.
- Keep a list or photocopy of all your credit cards, account numbers, expiration dates, and telephone numbers of the customer service and fraud departments in a secure place (not in your wallet or purse) so you can quickly contact your creditors in case your cards are lost or stolen. Do the same with your bank accounts.
- Always take credit card and ATM receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container.
- Be careful before you use a credit card on the Internet or before providing personal information (such as your Social Security number or date of birth) on an electronic application.
- Never give out personal or financial information over the phone to anyone who calls to solicit a purchase or donation. Before making any transaction, check with your local Better Business Bureau™ or the Attorney General’s Office to check the company’s business and complaint history.
- Be wary of anyone calling to “confirm” personal or financial information. Often, these are criminals trying to obtain those facts under the guise of “confirmation.”
- Thoroughly review your credit card statements, bank statements, utility bills, and insurance bills and statements for any unusual activity, purchases, or charges. Immediately contact the company if an item looks suspicious, or if there is a purchase you don’t recall making.
Passwords and Personal Identification Numbers (PINs)
- When creating passwords and PINs, do not use the last four digits of your Social Security number, your birth date, middle name, mother’s maiden name, pet’s name, address, consecutive numbers, or anything else that could be discovered easily by thieves.
- Ask your financial institution to add extra security protection to your account. Most will allow you to use an additional code (a number or word) when accessing your account. Do not use the types of passwords and PINs listed above.
Social Security Numbers
- Release your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary or when required by law (such as tax forms; employment records; banking, stock, or property transactions; driver’s, marriage, or professional license applications; etc.). Your Social Security number is the key to your banking and credit card accounts as well as your insurance and health benefits, making it a prime target of identity thieves.
- If you think an identity thief is using your Social Security number, call the Social Security Fraud Hotline at (800) 269-0271.
If you are Victim of Identity Theft
Immediately contact the police and file a police report. Notify your bank and credit card companies of the fraud. Send copies of the police report to your bank and credit card companies.
Make sure you receive information from the law enforcement agency about an Identity Theft Verification Passport, a unique program created by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office which provides victims of identity theft a method of demonstrating to law enforcement and creditors that their identity has been stolen, and of rehabilitating their credit history and identifying any fraudulent criminal charges.
Once a law enforcement officer verifies the information in your report, you will be able to fill out a PASSPORT application with the law enforcement officer. The process is simple; the law enforcement officer will take your picture, fingerprint and ask you to sign the application. You will give the officer a phone number that you want to be used to activate your card. Then, the officer will attach the police report you filled out and send all the information to the Attorney General’s Office.
Immediately cancel credit card and bank accounts and have new accounts opened with new numbers.
Contact the creditors of any accounts that have been tampered with or fraudulently used.
Contact the fraud department of each of the three national credit bureaus. Add a “fraud alert” to your credit file to aid in the prevention of further fraudulent activities.
- Experian – To report fraud, call: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742).
- Equifax – To report fraud, call: (800) 525-6285.
- TransUnion – To report fraud, call: (800) 680-7289.