During the course of a normal day, you may write a check at a store, charge a gasoline purchase, purchase an item on the Internet, order new checks, use your cell phone, mail out monthly bills, rent a car, or apply for a credit card. These everyday transactions, completed without a second thought, are what the identity thief thrives on. In each of these transactions you are handing out personal identification information.
Identity theft occurs when someone utilizes your personal identifying information or you Personal Identification Number (PIN) to acquire goods or services in your name through the use of your own credit cards, debit cards, checks, or other documents.
How to Determine if You Are a Victim
The 1st step in detecting that you are a victim of identity theft is as simple as monitoring your personal finances. Look for the following:
- Bank statements that don't agree with your personal records
- Being denied a bank loan you should have qualified for
- Missing credit card bills or other mail
- Unexplained changes in your bank access codes (PIN number)
- Unexplained charges on your telephone bill or other consumer accounts
- Unusual purchases on your credit cards
- Unusual telephone calls regarding personal or financial information
What You Should Do
If you discover you are a victim of identity theft, it is recommended that you immediately initiate the following 3 steps:
- Contact the fraud departments of the 3 major credit bureaus. These companies can have a Fraud Alert / Victim Impact Statement placed on your account. This alert is a red flag to the creditors telling them to call you for permission, prior to opening any new accounts in your name.
- Contact the fraud departments of the credit cards that have either been fraudulently used or fraudulently opened with your personal identification information. The credit card company should mail out a fraud packet which contains materials that will assist them in investigating the incident. Included will be documentation that should be completed and returned to their fraud investigators. Make sure that all fraudulent cards are cancelled. If the case involved your credit card being compromised, cancel the original card and have a replacement card issued with a new account number. This step should also be followed up in writing as is required in the Fair Credit Billing Act for resolving errors on your credit billing statement.
- Contact your local law enforcement agency and have them initiate a report.
Additional Security Measures
- Contact all creditors to inform them of the problem.
- Alert your bank and have them flag your accounts and contact you if there is any unusual activity. If this occurs act accordingly and protect your accounts.
- Request a change of your PIN number and new password on any existing credit, ATM, or debit cards, if your believe those accounts have compromised.
- Contact the Wisconsin Department of Transportation / Division of Motor Vehicles to see if a duplicate driver's license or identification card had been issued in your name. If so, get a new license.
- Contact the Social Security Administration's Hotline at 800-269-0271, and advise them of the situation and subsequent investigation.
- Keep a log of everyone you speak with, to include telephone numbers and make copies of all documents, including the case number from the appropriate law enforcement agency.
How to Prevent Identity Theft
While it is difficult to prevent identity theft, your risk can be minimized by managing your personal information wisely. The following security measures should be utilized to safeguard your identity against theft:
- Before you give out personal identification information, find out how it is going to be used.
- Order a copy of your credit report annually from the 3 credit reporting agencies. Make sure these reports are accurate and include only accounts that have been authorized by you.
- Pay attention to billing cycles; if a bill fails to appear on time, it may have been taken from the mail. Should this happen, contact your creditor.
- Carefully safeguard all credit card, bank, and other financial statements. When disposing of these records the use of a paper shredder is recommended.
- Always make Internet purchases through a secured website.
- Be wary of anyone calling to confirm personal information.
- Keep an eye for recently requested credit cards, checks, or ATM cards that will be mailed to you. If they are late, report them to the company as soon as possible.
- Always ask for the carbon paper used for your credit card purchases.
- Provide your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. Remove your Social Security and driver's license number from your personal checks or other forms of identification.
- As a consumer, you have the right to prevent your name and personal information from being distributed to companies, marketers, or government agencies. The 3 credit reporting agencies provide a toll-free number that enables consumers to option out of all pre-approved credit offers. Call 888-5-OPTOUT (888-567-8688) for more information.
If You Become a Victim of Fraud
Occasionally, victims of identity theft are wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the imposter or held liable for a civil judgment (for example, a subject steals your identity, secures a car loan, and defaults on the payments). If this happens, contact the court where the civil judgment was entered and report that you are the victim of identity theft. If you become a suspect in a criminal investigation, quickly provide proof to the prosecutor or investigating agency.
Your credit rating should not be permanently affected, and no legal action should be taken against you. If any merchant, financial institution, or collection agency suggest otherwise, simply restate your willingness to cooperate. Do not allow yourself to be coerced into paying any fraudulent bills.
Business Claim Protection
If you have a business the following steps can be taken to protect your business and customers from the fraudulent crimes.
Protect the Confidentiality of Your Customer
The most important asset to any business is your customers or clientele. Whether you are in the business of selling products or services, most businesses have a database or listing which contains personal information of their customers. This information must be treated as confidential.
There are several ways confidential information about your customers can be compromised. One of the most common mistakes that can readily expose a business to liability, is poor security of the data entry system. Even though data entry may seem to be a menial task that is best reserved for someone other than a salaried employee, the entry of customer or clientele information is the bread and butter of an identity thief.
Ensure Thorough Background Checks of Employees
It is common for data entry positions to be filled using temporary service employees. While these services do have some form of background screening prior to releasing their personnel for temporary positions, it would be prudent for your business to perform additional security screenings. Remember, if the identity theft is traced back to information obtained from an employee of your company, you may be liable for a claim or subject to civil action.
Ensure Proper Disposal of Customer Information
Another way your business can allow customer or clientele information to become compromised, is through the improper disposal or purging of these files. When updating customer lists, do not simply throw out the previous list. Take precautions in the disposal of these items. Utilization of a paper shredder is the preferred method of destroying confidential business records.
It does not take much to protect the information of your customers, but every step taken to protect your customer will also decrease your liability in identity theft situations.