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Identity theft: The unauthorized possession of one's personal identification and information and the use of this information to fraudulently conduct business and other affairs including obtaining credit or funds. During 2004, 9.3 million American adults became victims of identity theft, according to the Better Business Bureau.
Identity thieves will open new accounts in other people's names and rack up debts on existing accounts. To do this, these thieves may use consumers' Social Security numbers, bank account information, addresses, or phone numbers. Some consumers have been denied jobs or insurance or have been arrested for crimes they did not commit--all because their identity was stolen.
Identity thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information, including:
While we cannot prevent identity theft entirely, the Better Business Bureau, along with many other financial institutions have some tips to minimize our risks:
1. If you feel that there is a chance that your credit or bank accounts may be compromised, contact all three major credit bureaus.
Request that they each place a fraud alert and a victim's statement in your file. A fraud alert is supposed to result in creditors contacting you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts.
Request a FREE copy of your credit report to check whether any accounts were opened without your consent.
Request that each remove inquiries and/or fradulent accounts stemming from the theft.
2. Close your bank accounts, but notify the bank that your account numbers have been compromised and that you would like a new account. If you have any problems doing this, change banks.
If checks were stolen, place stop payments on them.
If bank accounts were set up without your consent, close them.
If your ATM card was stolen, request a new card, account number and PIN number.3. Notify the issuers of the credit cards you carry. If unauthorized charges appear on your legitimate credit cards or if unauthorized cards have been issued in your name, request replacement cards with new account numbers. Request that the unauthorized cards be closed.
Monitor credit card bills for new fradulent activity. If found, report it immediately to the credit card issuers and credit reporting agencies.
4. Check with any online accounts, merchants, or payment services that you use for any fradulent activity against your account.
5. Contact your local police department to file a criminal report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors.
6. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC keeps records of identity theft cases used by law enforcement for investigations.
7. Contact the Social Security Administration's Fraud Hotline to report the unauthorized use of your personal identification information. Hotline: 800.269.0271
8. Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of your identity theft. Check to see whether an unauthorized license number has been issued in your name.
9. Be sure to document the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak to regarding the incident. Follow up your phone calls with letters. Keep copies of all correspondence.
Review the steps to prevent identity theft to avoid any additional problems in the future.
Better Business Bureau/BBBOnline
4200 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22203
703.276.0100The Federal Trade CommissionFight Identity TheftIdentity Theft Resource Center
858.693.7935National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center
Fraud hotline: 800.876.7060Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Consumer Federation of America
Scamicide.com: Website about identify theft and fraud