Protect yourself against consumer identity fraud
by Teresa Maher, Better Business Bureau
In an age where all personal and financial information is recorded by various sets of numbers, it is crucial to keep these numbers private and out of the potential grasp of criminals. Thieves lift important pieces of identification such as credit card numbers, driver's license numbers, Social Security numbers, telephone calling cards, and ATM cards, often without the owner even knowing they are missing.
After the information is stolen, it is frequently sold to those in need of a new identity. Once these criminals acquire their new identity, they make as many purchases as possible before they can be tracked. After running out of time, they move on to new identification numbers, and begin the process again.
If the targeted individuals are unable to stop the criminal activity quickly enough, they frequently acquire a poor financial standing, bad credit reports, and embarrassment over the marred records that now appear to be their own. Several simple measures can be taken to avoid a personal identity scam:
If you believe that any of your personal identification numbers have been stolen:
- If you have your identification numbers stolen, it is critical to report the crime to police as soon as you become aware of the illegal activity.
- When making an ATM transaction, be sure to guard the screen from those around you or behind you in line. Thieves sometimes peer over the cardholder's shoulder to attain the personal identification number (PIN), or any other account information appearing on the screen.
- When using a telephone calling card, make certain that nobody can read the numbered code as you enter it into the phone. These numbers are all a thief needs to access your account and make numerous calls, even if you still have your card in possession.
- After using the ATM or making a credit card purchase, take your receipts with you. If you do not generally keep them in a safe place as a record, tear them so they are unreadable.
- If you receive a pre-approved credit card in the mail and do not wish to accept the offer, shred all account information and return it to the sender to ensure there are no open accounts which may affect your credit report.
- If you are not currently using a credit card, cancel the account. These account numbers are recorded in your credit report.
- Keep a list of all credit cards, account numbers, and telephone numbers of the customer service departments in a safe place other than your wallet in case of theft.
- Always protect your Social Security number. This is the most important number a thief can obtain. Your Social Security number is the key to your credit and banking accounts. Never give this information out over the phone.
- Call the police immediately to report the crime.
- Call your credit card company and report any lost or stolen credit cards.
- Call the fraud unit of all three credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian (formerly TRW), and Trans Union.
- Notify your bank of the theft, cancel your present account numbers, and ask for a new account number.