Identity Theft and Fraud

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes, affecting approximately 500,000 new victims each year. Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to crimes in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves deception—usually for economic gain.

How Identity Theft and Fraud is Committed

In public criminals may engage in “shoulder surfing”—watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your credit card number.

Some thieves also “dumpster dive”—going through your garbage cans or a commercial dumpster or trash bin—to get copies of checks, credit card/bank statement, or other records that would have your name, address, or phone number.

Someone may simply steal your wallet or purse.

If you have received applications for “pre-approved” credit cards, but throw them away without tearing up the enclosed paperwork, criminals may retrieve them and try to activate the cards.

Someone may obtain a credit card, using your name, date of birth and Social Security number. When they use the card and do not pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.

They may set up a cellular phone service in your name.

They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.

Criminals may pilfer bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit card applications, etc., from your mailbox.

Prevention of Identity Theft or Fraud

Limit the amount of personal information you carry in your wallet.  Do not carry bank account number, personal identification numbers (PIN), passports, birth certificates or Social Security cards.

Avoid carrying more blank checks than you actually need.  A criminal can fraudulently use the sensitive information often pre-printed on your checks.  Do not have your Social Security number pre-printed on your checks.

Keep good backup information about your accounts, in case your wallet or purse is lost or stolen.

When on vacation, take a list of toll-free telephone numbers for your banking and credit card companies—not your card numbers—and keep the list in a safe place other than your wallet.

Cancel any credit cards you do not use or have not used in six months.

Never give personal information over the telephone unless initiate the call and are familiar with the business.

Destroy—preferably shred—credit card applications you get in the mail and do not use.

Review your credit card bills and your checking account statements as soon as they arrive, to ensure that no fraudulent activity has taken place.

Do not put checks in the mail from your home mailbox.  Drop them off at the mailbox or post office. Mail theft is common and it is easy to change the recipient on the check with an acid wash.

When you order new credit cards in the mail, or your previous ones have expired, watch the calendar to make sure you get the card within the appropriate time.  If you have not received it by a certain date, call the company immediately and find out if the card was sent.  Find out if a change of address was filed if you do not receive the card or billing statement.

Get a post office box, or locked mailbox.

Obtain a copy of your credit report at least once a year to check for errors or fraudulent accounts that you did not open.

Do not put your telephone number on your checks.

Consider making your phone number unlisted or use an initial instead of full first name in the directory.

When offered, get credit cards and business cards with your photo.

If someone you do not know calls you and offers you a major credit card, prize, or other valuable item, but asks you for personal data—such as your Social Security number, credit card number, or mother’s maiden name—ask them to send you a written application form. If they will not, tell them you are not interested and hang up.

When you are traveling, ask a trusted neighbor to collect your mail.  If not possible, have the mail held at the post office.

If your monthly credit card or bank statements do not arrive at the normal time, call the institution immediately.