|Fraud: ID Theft|
An excellent guide with step-by-step instructions if you have been a victim.
© Cybertelecom ::
So, if you find yourself on the TV show “To Tell the Truth” with lots of people asking, “will the real you please stand up,” what can you do?
The first step is to report the situation to the police. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act provides you certain protections that can be taken advantage of by your local friendly federal law enforcement agency. The Act makes it a federal crime if someone
knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.
[18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7)]. This Act carries with it the threat of 15 years imprisonment, a fine, and forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the crime.
There are a couple of things to note about this law. First, any means of identification of another person can be stolen. This can include a wide range of things including social security numbers, phone numbers, and credit card numbers. As the information age progresses and new means of identifying us are developed on the Internet, theft of those means of identification will likewise violation this Act (imagine a domain name system or database that is used to provide contact information, such as IP telephony numbers or e-mail addresses, for people).
Another thing to note is that the perpetrator has to steal your identity with the intent to do something evil. If someone mistakenly gets your identity, say by an error in a database, this does not constitute a violation of the law. When the online bookstore misidentifies your cookie, thinks that you are your local politician, and starts revealing all the dirty books that the local politician has purchased, this would not be identity theft.
If you are a victim of ID theft, there are a number of other steps you can take.
- Download a copy of FTC, ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name, and follow its step by step instructions concerning what to do when you are a victim.
- Contact the fraud departments of the credit bureaus and ask that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file. Ask that you be contacted before any new accounts are authorized and request copies of your credit reports for review. The three major credit reporting companies are Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.
- Contact any accounts that have been tampered with, close or block those accounts, and file in writing a report with their fraud department (frequently, the quicker you contact them, the less that you will be liable for).
- Contact your local police and retain a copy of the crime report. The crime report will be useful in dealing with creditors in the future. Many states have passed laws related to identity theft.
- Contact your local federal law enforcement agency for investigations under the ID Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. Your local field office of the FBI can be found in the phone book or on the FBI website. Your identity theft could likely have violated several other federal laws as well such as Mail Fraud or Social Security Fraud.
- Contact the FTC’s ID Theft Hotline: 1-877-IDTheft (1-877-438-4338).
What you do next will depend on the type of identity theft that you experienced. If your address was changed, you need to contact the Post Office. If the crime involved investments, you should contact the Security Exchange Commission. The Federal Trade Commission has a ID Theft Form entitled “Chart your Course of Action” that you can use to make sure you take all appropriate steps. If the crime has resulted in credit problems, you may need to explore your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Truth in Lending Act limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charts in most cases to $50 per cards (many companies now offer zero liability, marketing their cards as the safe card to use on the Internet).
Of course, the best way to deal with one of these unfortunate situations is to prevent them in the first place. Some actions recommended by the FTC and other organizations include:
- Hand out personal identifying information on a strict need-to-know basis. You may need to give out your social security number in order to apply for a credit card – but does your local dollar video store really need it? If you have to give up information, find out how your information will be used and who it will be share with. Many states, for instance, have bought a significant clue and no longer require you to use your social security number on your driver’s license. If the Federal Government asks for your social security number, look for the Privacy Act notice; supplying your social security number may be optional and voluntary.
- Pay attention to your bills; check to make sure that each bill shows up each month. And review each bill to make sure each charge is actually yours.
- Guard against mail theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office box. Receive mail either through a mail slot or other more secure method than the old fashion mailbox stuck up top the old milk jug. If preapproved applications for credit cards come in the mail, don’t just throw them away – shred them (call 1-888-5-optout to opt out of receiving these prescreened credit card applications).
- Many banks and credit cards now permit you to place passwords on accounts that must be provided before changes are made. And of course, if you do use passwords, do not use as a password such things as social security numbers, you date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, and any other personal information.
- How fat is your wallet and how many unnecessary cards are in it? What happens when that wallet is pinched? Think about carrying about carrying as little information as possible in your wallet, and by all means, do not carry a cheat sheet of all of you passwords in there. Next, make a photocopy of everything in your wallet and securely store the copy in the event the wallet is lost or stolen.
- Be careful about people who call or email you and ask, under some pretense, for personal information. If your alleged bank representative calls and asks for information related to your bank, thank them very much and tell them you will call them. Call a number that you know belongs to your bank and confirm that they are actually in need of this information. Not surprisingly, a great deal of SPAM is sent by fraudsters attempting to acquire personal information.
- Annually check your credit record. The credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) are legally permitted to charge you no more than $8.50 for a copy of your credit report.
My personal favorite advice for protecting your personal information is to lie, lie, lie. There are lots of people asking lots of questions about you for a plethora of reasons. In many occasions, there is no reason you have to tell them the truth. One strategy is to provide them the information they ask for, but let it all be creative fiction. If they want to know your date of birth, make one up. Randomly pick a salary. Say that you have 30 children. Never give out your actual e-mail address unless you like SPAM. And when that devious someone tries to create a personal profile of you, it will be so full of conflicting information and rubbish as to be useless.