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Identity Theft

Identity Theft is the fastest growing crime in America, affecting half a million new victims each year. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft was the number one fraud complaint during the calendar year of 2008. And limiting your use of your personal computer may not help much: a study released by Javelin Strategy and Research reported that in 2009 most identity thefts were taking place offline, not online - just the opposite of what many folks might think. One other troubling finding: the study found that 43 percent of all identity thefts are committed by someone the victim knows.

Identity theft or identity fraud is the taking of a victim's identity to obtain credit and credit cards from banks and retailers, steal money from a victim's existing accounts, apply for loans, establish accounts with utility companies, rent an apartment, file bankruptcy, or obtain a job using the victim's name. Thousands of dollars can be stolen without the victim even finding about it for months or even years.

The imposter obtains your social security number, your birth date, and other identifying information such as your address and phone number. With this information and a fake driver's license, they can apply in person for instant credit or through the mail posing as you. They often claim they have moved and provide their own address. Once the first account is opened, they can continue to add to their credibility.

This crime is relatively easy to commit, but investigating and prosecuting it is complex and time-consuming, but once you know the facts and some preventive measures you can take, you can win the fight against identity theft!
ID Theft "It's a Crime"
The following information has been provided by the National Crime Prevention Council.

Identity Thieves Commit Their Crime In Several Ways

  • They steal credit card payments and other outgoing mail from private, curbside mailboxes.

  • Go "dumpster diving" by digging through garbage cans or communal dumpsters in search of cancelled checks, credit card and bank statements, and "pre-approved" credit card offers.

  • Steal mail, especially envelopes containing bill payments, from unlocked, unguarded "out boxes" at work.

  • "Shoulder surf" by watching from a nearby location as he or she punches in a telephone calling card number or listens in on a conversation in which the victim provides a credit card number over the telephone in a public place.

  • Take important documents such as birth certificates, passports, copies of tax returns and the like during a burglary of your house.

  • They hack into computers that contain personal records and steal the data.

  • Lift driver's license numbers, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, or other identifiers from checks.

  • Steal discarded applications for "pre-approved" credit cards and fill them out with a different address.

  • Steal wallets and purses - and all the credit and identification cards inside them.

  • Steal Social Security cards.

  • Steal through security breaches the Social Security numbers and identities of children who are especially vulnerable because they don't have credit histories and it may be many years before the theft is discovered.

  • Lift names and Social Security numbers from such documents as drivers' license, employee badges, student ID cards, checks, and medical charts.

  • Buy records stolen by a fellow employee who's been bribed.

  • File a change of address form in the your name to divert mail and gather personal and financial data.

Financial Crimes

  • They make long-term financial commitments, like taking out mortgages or buying cars, using their victim's credit history.

  • They establish, use, and abandon dozens of charge accounts - without paying.

  • They may run up huge amounts of debt, and then file for bankruptcy in their victim's name, ruining their victim's credit history and reputation.

  • Take advantage of peer-to-peer file sharing software such as Limewire.Hacking into a computer

  • Use personal information from a Who's Who or a newspaper article.

  • Use the personal information of a relative or someone he or she knows well, perhaps by being a frequent visitor of their home.

  • Pretend to be government officials or legitimate business people who need to gather personal information from credit reporting agencies or other sources.

  • "Skim," in which a dishonest merchant secretly copies the magnetic strip on the back of your credit or debit card in order to make a counterfeit card that can then be sold.

  • Hack into a computer that contains your personal records and steal the data.

  • Use the camera in a cell phone to photograph someone's credit card or ATM card while he or she is using an ATM machine or buying something in a store.

  • "Phish" by sending a legitimate-looking email that directs you to a phony website that looks legitimate and asks for your personal and financial data.

  • "Pharm," a tactic by which criminals "hijack" whole domains to their own sites and gather the personal and financial data of users who believe they're communicating through their customary service provider.

  • Send fraudulent "spam" emails that promise huge prizes or bargains in return for personal and financial information.

  • Send a fake electronic IRS form to gather personal information and financial data (Note: The IRS never requests information by email.)

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When Money Is No Object - They May Use Your Identity To Commit Crimes Like These

  • They may threaten national security or commit acts of terrorism. The September 11 hijackers used fake IDs to board their planes.

  • They use stolen personal information to forge military identification cards, as happened at an army base near Washington, DC. This was a potential threat to national security.

  • They steal insurance information in order to get medical procedures done or to obtain medications.

  • They pile up traffic tickets in your name with no intent to pay them.

  • They commit felonies using your identity. Victims of identity theft have been arrested, even jailed, for crimes they didn't commit.

  • They may obtain a passport in your name to bring someone into the country for any one of a number of illegal reasons - human trafficking, for example.

How To Prevent Identity Theft

  • Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you have initiated the contact or you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves will pose as bank representatives, internet service providers, and even government officials to get you to reveal your information. Read newspapers to learn about various kinds of scams as well as websites such as www.hoax-slayer.com.

  • Don't put outgoing mail, especially bill payments, in personal curbside mailboxes. Use United States Postal Service mailboxes instead, or better yet, drop off your mail inside a post office.Social Security Card Theft

  • Use a locked mailbox with a slot at home, if at all possible.

  • Pay your bills online using a secure site if that service is available.

  • Don't put outgoing mail in an unguarded "out box" at work.

  • Destroy the hard drive of your computer. If you are selling it, giving it to charity, or otherwise disposing of it. Don't just erase the hard drive; physically remove it.

  • Keep your wallet in your front pocket so a pickpocket can't take it. Hold your purse close against your body through its straps.

  • Burglar-proof your home, then burglar-proof what's inside your home, especially your financial records and important documents (put them inside a locked filling cabinet or safe).

  • Don't write your account number on the outside of envelopes containing bill payments.

  • When you're out of town, have the post office hold your mail for you or have someone you trust pick it up every day.

  • Shred all documents, including pre-approved credit applications received in your name, insurance forms, bank checks, statements and other financial information you are discarding. Cross-cut shredding is best. No shredder? Use scissors to cut documents.

  • Do not use your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your social security number, or a similar series of numbers as a password for anything.

  • Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry. Take only what you'll actually need. Don't carry your social security card, birth certificate, insurance policies, or passport, unless necessary.

  • Do not put your social security number on your checks or your credit receipts. If a business requests your social security number, give them an alternate number and explain why. If a government agency requests your social security number, there must be a privacy notice accompanying the request. Treat it as confidential information.

  • Commit all passwords to memory. Never write them down or carry them with you.

  • Do not put your telephone numbers on checks.

  • Use direct deposit, whenever possible, instead of a paper paycheck that could be stolen from your mailbox.

  • Don't have new checks mailed to you at home; pick them up at the bank.

  • Examine all of your bank and credit card statements each month for mistakes or unfamiliar charges that might be the sign of an identity thief at work.

  • Be careful using ATMs and phone cards. Someone may look over your shoulder and get your PIN numbers, thereby gaining access to your accounts. Always shield your hand and the screen, even if no one's right behind you.

  • Make a list of all your credit card account numbers and bank account numbers with customer service phone numbers and keep it in a safe place.

  • When participating in an online auction, try to pay the seller directly with a credit card so you can dispute the charges if the merchandise does not arrive or was misrepresented. If possible, avoid paying by check or money order.

  • Adopt an attitude of healthy skepticism toward websites that offer prizes or giveaways. Chances are, all that's been "won" is the opportunity to buy something you didn't want in the first place.

  • Choose a commercial online service that offers parental control features.

  • Use traveler's checks instead of personal bank checks.

  • Tell your children never to give out their addresses, telephone number, password, school name or any other personal information.

  • When you order new credit cards in the mail or previous ones have expired, watch the calendar to make sure you get the card within the appropriate time. If the card is not received within that time, call the credit card grantor immediately to find out if the card has been sent. If you don't receive the card, check to make sure a change of address was not filed.

  • Do not put your credit card number on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secure site. Look for evidence that you're doing business on a secure site. In your browser bar, look for https and the lock icon.

  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address.

  • Cancel all credit cards that you have not used in the last six months. Open credit is a prime target if an identity thief spies it in your credit report.

  • Examine your credit reports from the major national credit reporting firms at least once a year to make sure no one has established credit in your name or is ruining your credit after stealing your identity. The recently enacted Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act requires that each of the three major credit reporting agencies provide consumers with a free credit report once a year. Reports should be obtained from all three major sources: Equifax at 800-525-6285; Experian at 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); or TransUnion at 800-680-7289. These can also be obtained at www.annualcreditreport.com.

  • Consider placing a fraud alert on your account with the three major credit bureaus, freezing your credit, or engaging an identity theft protection service. All of these actions provide an extra layer of security by requiring you to approve the release of your credit information rather than having it supplied automatically. Some of these services are free and some require a small fee.

  • Correct all mistakes on your credit report in writing. Send the letters return receipt requested. Identify the problems item by item and send a copy of the credit report back to the credit reporting agency. You should hear from the agency within 30 days.

  • Write to Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512 to get your name off direct mail lists. This will stop the dangerous flow of "pre-approved" credit card offers to your address.

  • Call the credit reporting industry at 888-50PT-OUT as an extra measure to stop credit card and insurance solicitations from people you don't already do business with from coming to your home.

Back to topCredit Card Fraud

Most Common Forms Of Identity Theft

  • Credit card fraud is the most common form of identity theft
  • Government documents/benefits fraud is the second most common
  • Employment fraud is the third most common
  • Electronic fund transfer-related identity theft continues to be the most frequently reported type of identity theft bank fraud

Repairing The Damage

  • Call the police. As soon as you can, contact your local police or sheriff's department. The police should take your report and give you a copy, or at least the number of the report. You should also consider reporting the crime to your state law enforcement, since many states have recently toughened their laws against identity theft. You will need a police report to pursue your case with creditors who have been victimized in your name. You may also want to contact the office of your state attorney general for consumer fraud information. You can contact the North Dakota's State Attorney General at www.ag.state.nd.us. Be sure to give the police copies of all the documents that support your claim. You may want to provide them with a notarized copy of the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Affidavit, available from www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft. Because an identity is frequently stolen in one place and used in another, you may also have to contact the police in the place where the crime took place. Your local law enforcement or the creditors affected can tell you if this is the case. The Devils Lake Police Department local crime stoppers can be contacted at (701) 662-0739, Detective Susan Schwab.

  • Check your bank accounts. If someone is illegally using your bank account, close the account right away and ask your bank to notify its check verification service. The service will notify retailers not to honor checks written on this account. In most cases, the bank is responsible for any losses. To find out whether someone is passing bad checks in your name, call the Shared Check Authorization Network at 800-262-7771. If you think someone has opened a new checking account in your name, you can ask for a free copy of your consumer report from Chex Systems (800-428-9623, www.chexhelp.com), the consumer reporting service used by many banks. If your bank doesn't use Chex Systems, ask for the name and number of the consumer reporting service it uses.

  • Contact the credit reporting agencies. As soon as you know your identity has been stolen, call one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The law requires the agency you call to contact the other two. The agencies will flag your account; this means that any business that wants to view your credit report to give you credit will first have to verify your identity. If you have been the victim of fraud, a fraud alert can be placed on your accounts for seven years. The three agencies will then send you two free reports over the next 12 months. The three major credit reporting agencies toll-free numbers are: Equifax - 800-525-6285, Experian - 888-397-3742, and TransUnion - 800-680-7289.

  • Work with your creditors. If you discover unauthorized charges on your credit report or any billing statement, contact the fraud department of the creditors you believe have been robbed in your name. You have 60 days from the date you normally receive your bill to notify them. If you notify your creditors within this time frame, your loss for unauthorized charges will be limited to $50.

  • Report your case to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC maintains a database that law enforcement agencies use to hunt down identity thieves. To report your theft or to get more information on what to do, call the FTC's toll-free hotline at 877-IDTHEFT.

  • Call the Social Security Administration. Call the fraud hotline if your Social Security number has been stolen. Call 800-269-0271 or fill out a report online at www.socialsecurity.gov/org.

  • Call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Call if you suspect that a thief has used your mailing address to commit a crime. Call 800-275-8777 for the number of your local office.

  • Call the Internal Revenue Service. Call 800-829-0433 if you believe your identification has been used in violation of tax laws.

  • Act as soon as you discover the theft. Time is of the essence to help protect against further fraud or damage to your credit, and acting quickly may be necessary to protect your rights.

  • Keep a record of all conversations with name, agency, phone number, date, and time.

  • Keep copies of all emails.

  • Never mail originals. Always send out copies, notarized if necessary.

  • Use the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Affidavit and get it notarized.

  • Always use certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you have a record of who received your mail and when.

  • Above all, be persistent. It can take time and effort to clean up the mess left behind by the criminal who stole your identity, but only you can do the job.

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