Americans' top complaint:
thieves are finding new ways to snatch your good name. They prowl job boards and
hack into mainframes in search of new victims.
new tricks are adding more names to the millions a year who have their identities
a popular online job search site is warning its users of the potential for identity
fraud when responding to a job posting. It appears some theives are posing as
legitimate employers when all they really want is to snag some personal information.
Even celebrities aren't
immune. Talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey, founder of CNN Ted Turner, actor Will
Smith, pro-golfer Tiger Woods and director Steven Spielberg have had their identities
stolen. The FBI is currently investigating the possible theft of 8 million credit
card numbers that were exposed when a hacker broke into the computer system of
a company that processes credit card transactions.
University of Texas discovered that the names, Social Security numbers and e-mail
addresses of more than 55,000 students, alumni and employees of the university
were compromised when a hacker broke into the university's computer system in
The list goes on.
Celebrities have the advantages of money and power to clear
their name. But what would happen if you became a victim? In the worst-case scenario,
you could be imprisoned for crimes you never committed -- like Derek Bond.
a 72 year-old British man, was imprisoned for two weeks in South Africa last February
after the FBI wrongly identified him as a wanted fugitive. He was freed when the
real fugitive was arrested in Las Vegas. The U.S. Attorney's Office believes this
crook had been using Bond's identity as far back as 1989.
Criminals need very little information to steal your identity.
With your Social Security number they can apply for credit cards, cell phones,
loans, bank accounts, apartments and utility accounts.
garbage holds a plethora of information. Once your Social Security number or an
account number hits the dumpster, your identity is floating among the discarded
tea bags and orange peels, just waiting to be stolen.
about how many places you have written your Social Security number: rental car
applications, college tests, the doctor's office, apartment applications and job
applications. Many agencies that do not need your SSN request it anyway. We've
even heard of a veterinary
office that requested that information to treat a pet. Assuming all the people
you give your Social Security number to are honest, you're still at risk when
they throw away your application.
else are you throwing away?
Do you toss out your bank and credit card
statements without shredding them? What about your credit card receipts or the
hoards of pre-approved credit card offers you receive in the mail? If so, what's
to stop a criminal from applying for that card in your name? Buy a shredder.
'til proven innocent
One of the most frustrating aspects of identity
theft is that, unlike other crimes in the United States, victims
are guilty until proven innocent. Victims are responsibile for clearing their
names and protesting fraudulent debts.
Most of the means that
Americans have to protect themselves are retroactive -- controlling what damage
they can once they realize their identity has been stolen. Sens. Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., are trying to change that.
January they re-introduced the Social
Security Number Misuse Prevention Act. If the act becomes law, it would remove
SSNs from government checks, marriage licenses, public records and other legal
The State of California has taken identity protection
one step further by giving residents the right
to lock down their credit reports, which prevents anyone from applying for
credit in their names. This new law also forbids businesses from printing Social
Security numbers on identification cards or material mailed to customers.
for everyone else
Americans outside of California cannot lock down
their credit reports. They can place fraud alerts on their credit reports. A fraud
alert is a request that you be called before credit is issued in your name. But,
without a law to enforce this request, its power to protect you is questionable.
Another alternative Americans have is credit monitoring --
a service offered by all three credit agencies. The cost is from $45 to $80 per
year and is only a retroactive protection -- notifying you when someone has applied
for credit in your name. At that price, you may be better off checking your credit
report yourself at a cost of no more than $9 each.
you should check your credit report
One of the most frightening aspects
of identity theft is that victims often are oblivious to what's happening until
it all crashes down. If someone has applied for credit or a form of identification
such as a passport or driver's license in your name, but provided a different
address, you won't know what's happened until the collections agencies come looking
for you. In the worst-case scenario, you'll get arrested like Bond.
Mr. Bond had checked his credit report, he might have noticed discrepancies such
as an incorrect address or credit cards he never applied for. As it was, he spent
two weeks sleeping on a concrete floor.
Experts recommend that
you order your credit report with all
three agencies every six months to check for discrepancies.