What is identity theft?
James E. Bauer, deputy assistant director of the Office of Investigations for the U.S. Secret Service said, “Ready or not, here it comes: identity takeover fraud has come into its own and promises not to go away until significant changes evolve in the manner and methods by which personal identifiers are collected and used. Consumers would do well to arm themselves with knowledge on how to mend the damages when victimized.”
“We think it's a significant, growing problem,” says Joshua Hochberg, chief of the fraud section in the U.S. Department of Justice's criminal division. “I would expect that there will be a significant increase in the number of federal prosecutions.”
Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, affecting on the average of 500,000 new victims each year, for the past decade.
The Secret Service says that victims and institutions in its identity-fraud investigations lost more than $3 billion between 1998 and 2002.
Identity theft is the most called-about subject on the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse's telephone hotline (619-298-3396). Such crimes have accounted for more than 25 percent of all credit card fraud losses since 1997.
How can someone steal an identity? By co-opting your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or some other piece of personal identification for his or her own use.
In short, identity theft occurs when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge to establish a parallel identity.
That allows them to pretend to be you to open bank accounts and apply for loans, for example, and you may not know it is happening for months or years.
The impostors don't pay the bills and you are left with a disastrous credit report.
How to prevent theft
Listed below are some suggested ways in which your privacy could be protected, but please note that these protective measures will not necessarily prevent a criminal from getting access to your credit from a less-than-cautious credit grantor.
What victims can do
- Shred all important papers and all correspondence with your name and/or address on it.
- Be careful of “shoulder surfing” at ATMs and at phone booths when using phone cards.
- Do not put checks in the mail at your home mailbox.
- Cancel all credit cards that you do not use or have not used in six months.
- Put passwords on all accounts.
- Memorize Social Security numbers and passwords. Do not carry your Social Security card.
- Do not put your Social Security number on checks or credit receipts.
- Do not put phone numbers on checks.
- Do not put your credit card numbers on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secured site.
- Monitor all bank statements for every credit card every month.
- Order a credit report at least yearly and review it carefully. Immediately correct any mistakes on your report in writing.
- Make a list of all your credit card account numbers and bank account numbers and keep them in a safe place.
- Always take credit card receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container.
- If you receive an e-mail request that appears to be from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) stating that your “account information needs to be updated” or that “the credit card you signed up with is invalid or expired and the information needs to be reentered to keep your account active,” do not respond without checking with your ISP.
In identity-theft cases, the victim often has to prove his or her innocence. The burden remains on victims to straighten out the credit mess the imposter has made.
This shocks most new identity-theft victims who naturally expect the police, the credit grantors, the credit-reporting agencies, or others in positions of authority to help them.
Generally, victims of credit and banking fraud will be liable for no more than the first $50 of the loss (15 USC 1643). However, the victim must notify financial institutions within two days of learning of the loss.
Even though the victims may not be liable for the imposter's bill, they often are left with a bad credit report and have to spend months, or even years, regaining their financial health.
In 1998, when Congress made identity theft a federal crime, it directed the Federal Trade Commission to establish a clearinghouse for identity-theft complaints and assistance. The clearinghouse's Web site (www.consumer.gov/idtheft) and the counselors who staff the FTC's toll-free hotline (877-438-4338) will provide assistance on what steps to take if you become a victim of identity theft.
As a victim of identity theft it is important to act immediately to stop the thief's further use of your identity.
- Report the crime to the local police
- Immediately call all credit card issuers and get replacement cards with new account numbers.
- Call the fraud units of the three credit reporting companies: Experian (888-397-3742), Equifax (800-525-6285), and Trans Union (800-680-7289). Ask for your account to be flagged, and add a victims statement to the report. You also can contact the National Fraud Information Center (800-876-7060) for step-by-step instructions on how to proceed.
- Notify your bank of the theft. Get a new ATM card with a new account number and password.
- Contact the Social Security Administration (800-269-0271).
- Report fraudulent checks to: Telecheck (800-710-9898), National Processing Co. (800-526-5380), or Equifax (800-437-5120).
Victims of identity theft often report feeling that they are somehow to blame. They also can feel violated, even powerless, due to the fact that few, if any, of the authorities who have been notified of the crime step forward to help the victim.
The very first thing a Christian must do is to transfer ownership of every possession to God. This means money, time, family, material possessions, and credit. This is essential to experience the Spirit-filled life in the area of finances. A Christian must realize that there is absolutely no substitute for this step.
If you believe that you are the owner of even a single possession, the events affecting that possession are going to affect your attitude.
However, if we make a total transfer of everything to God, He will demonstrate His ability. He will keep His promise to provide every need we have according to His perfect plan.
Financial freedom comes from knowing that God is in control. What a relief it is to turn our burdens over to Him.
If we becomes victims of identity theft, we can say, “Father, I gave my credit to You; I've been, to the best of my ability, a good steward of that credit. It belongs to you, so do with it whatever You would like.” Then look for the blessings God has promised.