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Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone uses a victim's personal information without their permission. Using the social security number, birth date and other identifying information such as address and phone number the criminal may obtain credit or credit cards from banks and retailers, steal money from the victim's existing accounts, apply for loans, establish accounts with utility companies, obtain a job, rent an apartment, file bankruptcy or commit fraud or other crimes using the victim's name.

Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years - and their hard-earned money - cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit.

Identity theft is a relatively low-risk, high-reward endeavor, probably the fastest growing crime around the world today. The increased use of credit and debit cards and other kinds of electronic payments makes identity theft more widespread and while large corporation were once the main targets, smaller community banks, credit unions and business are now a growing class of victims.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft:

  1. Contact the company involved directly, using a customer service number you find in the phone book or that you have used in the past. THINK FIRST- ACT SECOND. The action to take is to verify a contact by the company before responding to the email. Do not even send a "do not contact me again."
  2. Contact the FBI at http://www.ifccfbi.gov or your local State Attorney General's office
  3. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC HELP or send it via email to: spam@uce.gov
  4. Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number.
    1. Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
    2. Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
    3. TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
    4. Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
  5. See end of this page for list of other resources.
  6. Remember, URLs that begin "http" are not secure. Only those that begin "https" are secure sites to send sensitive information.

Here are some tips to avoid trouble:

  • "Help move money from my country," aka Nigerian 419 Scam- Everyone has received an email from a representative of a foreign government asking you to help move money from one account to another. This scan still nets $100 million annually so people are falling for it.
  • Emails from E-Bay, PayPal or elsewhere that send yo to a web site that ask for PIN numbers, credit information, SSN and other personal data. The email may even threaten that your account or service will be discontinued. Contact the company directly via phone or email to verify that the email was sent to you. Do not be fooled by logos and even the TRUSTe seal. Almost all Internet server names have been used for this scam as well. Companies that have been known to be victims of this scam include: AOL, MSN, Earthlink, PayPay, Discover Card, Bank of America, Providian, Wells Fargo, E-Bay, Best Buys, Discover Card, e-gold.com, ebay-verification.net and change-ebay.com.
  • "Free Credit Report" Emails - Almost all of the "free credit report" emails you receive are scams.
  • "You have won a free gift" - You may receive either a phone call or email about a free gift or prize. You just need to send your credit card info to take care of shipping and handling. DON'T.
  • Avoid scams that appear to use telephone numbers in the U.S but are expensive out-of-country numbers. If you're not sure where a telephone number is located, use this free Area Code Decoder: http://decoder.americom.com/cgi-bin/decoder.cgi
  • Should you get a phone call from a VISA or Mastercard "employee" trying to confirm unusual spending activity AND that person asks for code on the back of your credit card DO NOT give that number out.
  • Canadian/Netherlands/Spanish Lottery - "You Have Won" - Unless you entered a lottery or bought a ticket to win a prize, these are scams.
  • ANY email that asks you to forward it to your friends is a scam.
  • Questionnaires: you may get an email holiday card from an "old friend" or a chat room friend. These include questions that help the person sending it find out your birthdate, passwords (favorite things) and even blatantly may ask for your SSN. Do not answer these, even with false information. You only let the other party know that they have reached a "live" person and you may eventually give away information you don't realize can hurt you.
  • Do not place your Social Security number or date of birth on resumes that you send out for jobs.
  • Job advertisement scams: Under no circumstances should an applicant provide a SSN to a "HR person" found through a newspaper ad or an Internet ad prior to an actual interview or prior to authenticating both the company and the person asking for the information.
  • In-Store security scams: Individuals identifying themselves as in-store security may request a customer's help in catching a bad employee. They ask for personal information or ask you to pre-fill out a credit application and then give it to the employee.
  • Telephone scams include calls from "charities" asking for donations. Do not provide credit card information over the telephone.
  • No one will call consumers asking if they want to be included on the "do not call list" nor will these lists require a consumer to provide a SSN via telephone.
  • Should you receive an email from a vendor that you have not contacted, do not respond. The company is fishing for live emails and may be trying to gather credit card numbers to use for other purposes.

Other Resources:

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