Frequently asked questions about identity
Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime on the
government's list of consumer fraud complaints for the fourth consecutive year,
according to the Federal Trade Commission. Forty-two percent of all complaints
in 2003 related to the theft of personal information such as a Social Security
number or credit card information. Here are some of the more commonly asked
questions about this scary crime.
What's the first thing I should do
when I find out that I'm an identity theft victim?
Contact the fraud department of any one of the three
major credit bureaus and report that your identity has been stolen. That
agency will contact the other two credit-reporting agencies. A "fraud alert"
will automatically be placed on each of your credit reports within 24 hours.
The alert serves as a notice that no new credit should be granted without your
approval. Not all creditors pay attention to these alerts. You need to be vigilant
that no new accounts are opened. Follow that by contacting each of your creditors
(credit card companies, mortgage lender, etc). Explain what happened in writing.
The Federal Trade Commission offers an ID
theft affidavit that simplifies the process. Instead of filling out a separate
fraud packet for each creditor, you may fill out a single fraud declaration
and send signed copies to each creditor. Most companies will accept the form,
but when you contact each creditor, ask if they will accept it. You may also
call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
It's very important that you file a report with your local police department
and perhaps the law enforcement agency where the identity theft took place.
Get copies of the reports and send to all the creditors. For more details, check
out this Bankrate
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I really have to give my Social Security number at my doctor's office?
You can say no. While any business or agency can
ask for your number, few can actually demand it. Agencies that can demand it
are generally government related, such as motor vehicle departments, tax departments
and welfare departments. Because Social Security numbers are required for transactions
involving taxes, banks, brokerages, employers, and the like also have a legitimate
need for your number. Most other businesses have no legal right to demand your
number. Always ask if they'll accept an alternative piece of identification.
To learn more about this subject, read Guard
your Social Security number.
can I protect myself from identity theft?
Aside from getting a credit report at least once
a year to monitor your credit, you should always be alert when your monthly
financial statements arrive. Carefully read over your bank statements and other
creditor statements to make sure you recognize all the items listed. Get a cross-cut
shredder and shred bank statements, credit card offers, or any other document
with your financial information on it. Mind your credit card receipts because
some still list your full account numbers and expiration dates. Here are 15
more ways to protect your identity.
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does identity theft happen?
All it takes is one slip (of paper) for an identity
thief to strike. The most obvious way to steal someone's identity is to snatch
a wallet. Thieves also comb the dumpsters of banks, mortgage companies, restaurants
and other businesses for receipts, credit slips and applications. Skimming devices
are also used to take the encoded information on the magnetic strips and create
new accounts. Then there's shoulder-surfing, when thieves stand close enough
to see PIN numbers punched in by ATM or phone booth users. And if you have a
common name, your credit's more likely to get mixed up with the other John Smiths
out there. For more information about how this can happen, check out this Bankrate
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I consider purchasing an identity theft insurance policy or a credit monitoring
If you've been the victim of identity theft and need to keep a
close eye on things like credit card and loan applications, or if you just like
to stay on top of your credit information, these products and services are probably
worth looking into. Just keep in mind that the credit bureaus and the Federal
Trade Commission can provide some of the same services for free. For more information,
check out this story that explains what
to expect from these services.
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-- Posted: April 6, 2004