Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. This is because the risk of apprehension is low while the potential profit is great. In order to prosecute these offenses investigators need the evidence of the crime – original credit card receipts, checks, credit applications, etc. – and often it is difficult to obtain these items. Furthering the difficulty is the fact that many identity theft incidents are done entirely over the phone.
Many people do not know exactly what identity theft is: identity theft is when someone obtains, uses, or possesses the personal identifying information (which includes name, social security number, date of birth, credit card/account numbers, and a whole laundry list of other information that is spelled out in Ohio Revised Code Section 2913.49 (A)) of another (whether living or dead, but it must be a real person) in order to fraudulently obtain credit, property, or services or to avoid the payment of a debt or other legal obligation. This criminal charge is a misdemeanor unless the amount of the loss exceeds $500. This charge is usually a companion charge to other crimes such as forgery and theft.
One of the more commonly seen forms of identity theft is credit card fraud. In this situation someone uses another person’s credit card number (not the card itself) to make purchases. Another way a person may have their identity compromised is when people gain utilities, cellular phones, credit cards and loans with another’s personal identifying information. People also “counterfeit” checks with another individual’s checking account number and then write checks against their actual account. Along these same lines people can open a checking account with another’s information and then write checks against the fraud account.
The logical question at this point is “How did someone obtain my personal information?” Here are some of the more common methods of obtaining your information:
* Theft of wallets/purses – most people keep their driver’s license in these items and the license contains most of your personal information on it. People can use this information to open accounts and order credit cards.
* Theft of mail – people can steal checks that have been made out to pay bills to gain the account number from the check. Bank statements and other documents with sensitive information can also be taken.
* Employees with access to personal information – there are people that buy personal information from others that have access to it.
* Trash – many people simply throw away their cancelled checks, account statements, and credit card applications. ‘Dumpster divers’ can recover these from the garbage.
* Change of address forms – by filling out a change of address form, a person’s mail can be re-routed to another address where the information contained in it can be used.
* Internet – it is possible to have your information accessed via the Internet when using a credit card number on a non-secured site.
What to do if you Become a Victim of Identity Theft
- The first thing that you should do is report the fraud to the three major credit bureaus (Trans Union, Equifax, and Experian). Request that they ‘flag’ your account so that creditors cannot grant credit to your file unless you directly authorize it. It is also important to get a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus to check for other possible frauds. Make sure to check all three of them because each may have different information.
- Next, you should file a police report with the police agency that has jurisdiction over the place where the crime occurred. If you are unable to file a report with the agency having jurisdiction contact your local police agency for a report. Even though your local agency may not be able to investigate the offense, at least a report will be on file documenting the identity theft. Make sure that you obtain a copy of the report.
- You will need to contact all of the creditors that are involved with the incident to notify them of the crime. The creditors will probably need copies of your police report.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC maintains a huge database of identity theft information. They also produce a comprehensive identity theft booklet.
Who to Contact For . . .
Stolen checks/credit cards – notify your bank/card issuer immediately to report the theft. It may be necessary to get new account numbers assigned. If your credit number itself has been used contact your credit card issuer to advise them of the fraudulent charge(s). The issuer will then advise you of how to go about getting the charges removed from your account.
Utility fraud – if someone has gained utilities (e.g., gas, electric, phone) with your information contact the utility that opened the account and notify their fraud department. If the utility is unwilling to assist you then notify the Public Utilities Commission for the state that is involved.
Cellular telephone/telecommunication fraud – most cellular companies have fraud departments that can assist you. Another alternative would be to contact the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for assistance at 1-888-CALL-FCC
Unauthorized changes of address/stolen mail – contact your local United States Postal Inspector to report the incident.
Illegal use of a driver’s license – contact your states Bureau of Motor Vehicles to determine is someone has gained a driver’s license with your name and personal information.
Social security number fraud – if you believe that someone is using your social security number to gain employment then contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) at 1-800-269-0271.
Income tax fraud – if you believe that someone is using your social security number to file a tax return then contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at 1-800-829-0433.
Identity Theft Prevention and Damage Control
- There are several things that you can do to both prevent becoming a victim of identity theft and minimizing the damage caused by identity theft.
Some of the tips are: Check your credit with the three credit bureaus yearly (twice a year is even better). Look for accounts that are not yours as well as addresses listed that do not belong to you. If you do notice an address that is not yours contact the U.S. Postal Inspectors.
- Do not give out your personal information over the phone to people that call you in an effort to sell you something. If they are reputable they will be willing to mail you an application; you can then determine if it is legitimate by contacting the Better Business Bureau or some similar organization.
- Never give out your personal information to anyone while on a cellular phone. This is because this is not secured and others can monitor calls.
- Check all of your monthly account statements for unauthorized charges. It is also a good idea to make sure that, in addition to balancing your checkbook every month that you periodically call and check your balance.
- Deposit outgoing mail in a U.S. Mail receptacle – not your mailbox (with the flag up advising people that there is mail in the box). If you go on vacation stop your mail with the post office. Do not leave mail in your mailbox for any period of time.
- Destroy all pre-approved credit applications as well as canceled checks and bank statements that are no longer needed.
- Retain all carbons/copies of charge slips so that they can be properly destroyed.
- Be cautious as to where you store personal information in your home – especially if you share the residence with other people.
- Never have your social security number printed on your checks. Do not allow merchants to write your social security number on your checks.
Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center/FTC
600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20580
P.O. Box 674402
Houston, TX 77267-4402
To order a copy of your credit report – 1-800-685-1111
To report fraud – 1-800-525-6285
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013
To order a copy of your credit report and/or report fraud – 1-888-397-3742
760 Sproul Road
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
To order a copy of your credit report – 1-800-916-8800
To report fraud – 1-800-680-7289