While it is true that you will probably be venturing onto someone else’s turf, this is still your identity and you will suffer the losses if your identity is stolen. Resolve from the beginning that you are taking personal responsibility for protecting your identity.
Identity Theft essentially consists of obtaining and using an individual’s personal information without his/her permission. The crime occurs both online and offline and the stolen information can include but is not limited to: name and address; credit card numbers; bank account numbers; Social Security number; and medical insurance account numbers. This information is used to obtain anything of value to a thief, including but not limited to: money; cell phone service; utilities; television service; mortgages; cars; boats; government benefits; and jobs. Widely deemed the fastest growing crime worldwide, identity theft is commonly combatted by measures designed to prevent, detect and counteract it.
Total prevention of identity theft is the ideal, of course, and may be unrealistic due to the proliferation and sophistication of some schemes. Perhaps the more realistic expectation is to greatly decrease the possibility of identity theft through measures such as: guarding the use of your Social Security number; knowing how personal information will be used before giving it out; knowing whether personal information will be shared before giving it out; controlling the privacy settings on your social networking sites so that only your friends can see your information; shredding all documents with personal information before discarding them; writing checks with gel pens; using only collection boxes or the Post Office for sending mail; making note of your billing cycles and contacting creditors when your bills don’t show up; reviewing all bank and credit card statements for discrepancies; using strong passwords – with more than 8 characters and using some upper case letters and some numbers and/or special characters; using a different password for each account and downloading password managers to create and store them; refusing to give personal information on any media unless you contacted the person requesting that information; using firewall, virus and spyware software on your computer and keeping them updated; keeping your browser version updated; obtaining free annual credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com; avoiding free public Wi-Fi or at least downloading virtual-private-network services to encrypt your data; carrying only the identification you need; and never carrying your Social Security card. All these measures are designed to dry up the identity thief’s sources of your personal information.
Despite your best efforts, theft of your identity is still quite possible. Therefore, detection is an important weapon for fighting identity theft. You may be able to detect the theft of your personal information by noticing something peculiar, such as: unusual bank transactions or credit card transactions on your monthly statements; unusual accounts, charges or notations on your credit reports; IRS notifications of unusual income; bills for services or goods that you did not order; failure to receive your monthly bills or other expected mail; and calls from debt collectors about charges. Peculiar activity is a “red flag” that should make you swing into action as though someone has stolen your identity.
If you suspect or know that someone has stolen your identity, your counteraction should begin as soon as possible. First, contact the source of peculiar information, find out what caused it and follow that source’s procedures for counteracting it. Second, contact one of the 3 major credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian or Transunion – and give them a fraud alert. Fraud alerts will be used to tell any businesses checking your credit report that you must be contacted before further credit is given in your name. There are 3 types of fraud alerts: an “initial fraud alert,” which lasts for 90 days and should be used if you suspect that your identity has been stolen; an “extended fraud alert,” which lasts for 7 years and should be used if you know that your identity has been stolen; an “active duty alert,” which lasts for as long as 1 year and is used if you are in the military. Third, ask all 3 major credit reporting companies for a copy of your credit report, which should be given to you free if your identity has been stolen. Fourth, review those reports to see if there are unusual transactions in your name, and list as many details as possible about each unusual transaction. Fifth, go online to the FTC’s web site at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1, complete and submit a detailed complaint about all the unusual transactions, then print the complaint to have your own copy, which will be called an “Identity Theft Affidavit.” Sixth, take your Identity Theft Affidavit to the police station, make a detailed police report of all the unusual transactions, and obtain a copy of the police report. Seventh, attach the police report to the Identity Theft Affidavit, which becomes your “Identity Theft Report.” Eighth, contact the creditors of those unusual transactions and the 3 major credit reporting agencies with copies of your Identity Theft Report in order to repair your credit and relieve you of paying for whatever the identity theft has stolen. During these calls, obtain the names and addresses of departments/individuals that must be contacted in writing in order to correct the unusual transactions. Ninth, send letters certified mail, return receipt requested, to the 3 major credit agencies and creditors of those unusual transactions. The letters should tell them: that you are a victim of identity theft; all detail of the unusual transaction(s); your detailed reasons for disputing the transaction(s); your detailed proof for disputing the charges; that you want a return letter from the company telling you that the charge is removed and/or the account is closed, the charge/account is removed from your credit report, and you are no longer held responsible for the charge/account. Tenth, keep an expandable file to collect all documents, including: your original Identity Theft Report; your 3 credit reports; account statements; receipts, letters you send and receive; detailed notes of every company you called, the date(s) on which you called, the names and phone numbers of each person to whom you spoke, and the substance of the conversation(s). Clearly, counteracting identity theft is no small feat; rather, it takes a great deal of time and intelligent effort. However, these actions should greatly help you in repairing the damage inflicted by identity theft.
DO’S AND DON’TS
DON’T be intimidated by the process or the people.
DO try to prevent identity theft by safeguarding your personal information and drying up the identity thief’s sources of your personal information.
DO detect identity theft by looking for peculiar activity.
DO counteract identity theft by speedy, thorough action, including the preparation and use of your “Identity Theft Report.”
DO keep an expandable file of all relevant documents and notes.
DON’T give up.
By Kathy Catanzarite
[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
CRIMINAL LAW DOS AND DON'TS