ID Theft: How to Protect Your Good NameWant to conquer your fears, prevent crime and reduce your chances of being a victim of identity theft? The Florida Police Chiefs Association asks that you take these common-sense precautions:
MINIMIZE YOUR RISKEveryday transactions such as writing a check, or making a purchase with a charge card are sources of information for an identity thief. Financial transactions often require sharing of personal information (name, address, work and home phone numbers; bank and credit card account numbers; income information; and Social Security number). While the risks of identity theft can't be completely eliminated, they can be minimized by carefully managing the dissemination of personal information.
- Before providing or revealing personal identifying information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared or sold to others. Ask if you have a choice regarding the use of your information and whether you can you choose to have it kept confidential.
- Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. Avoid the same information and numbers when you create a Personal Identification Number (PIN).
- Pay close attention to your billing cycles. Make sure to follow up with creditors if bills do not arrive on time. A missing credit card statement could mean an identity thief has taken control of your credit card account and changed the billing address to preclude detection.
- Only provide your Social Security number when it is absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identification when possible.
- Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry to what you actually need. If your I.D. or credit cards are lost or stolen, notify the creditors by phone immediately, and call the credit bureaus to ask that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file.
- Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies every year. Make sure that they are accurate and include only authorized activities. You will find this to be extremely important if you are financing a major purchase such as a home or car. A credit bureau may charge you up to $9.20, or more, for a copy of your report.
- Keep items with personal information in a safe place; tear them up or shred them when they are no longer required. Make sure charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks/statements, expired charge cards, and credit offers received by mail are disposed of in a way that they can neither be used or that your personal information will be compromised.
IF YOUR IDENTITY HAS BEEN STOLENIf you have learned that you are a victim of identity theft, we recommended that you take following steps:
- Contact your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place and file an offense report. Fraudulent use of personal identification information is a violation of Florida law pursuant to §817.568, Florida Statutes (1999). Ask the police for the case number as your creditors may require proof of the crime and/or that a report has been made.
- If you have not already been reached, you should contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened without your knowledge/permission. Speak with someone within the security or fraud department, and follow up in writing (required by the Fair Credit Billing Act for resolving errors on credit billing statements, including charges that you have not made). The FTC has developed sample letters are available in the booklet ID Theft: When Bad things Happen To Your Good Name, http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheft.htm.
- File a complaint with FTC: by contacting the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); or TDD at 202-326-2502; by mail to the Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580. You may also file a complaint online at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
- If an identity thief has stolen your mail for access to new credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers and tax information or falsified change-of-address forms, they have committed a crime. Report it to your local postal inspector. You may contact the United States Postal Inspection Service online at http://www.usps.com/websites/depart/inspect.
- Contact the fraud departments of each of the three following major credit bureaus. Ask for them to place a fraud alert on your file including a statement that requires creditors to get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name.
- Ask the credit bureaus for copies of your credit reports. They are required to provide you with a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of fraud. Carefully review each of the reports to ensure that no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name and/or that no unauthorized charges have been made to your existing accounts. It is a good idea to request additional credit reports within a couple of billing cycles to verify your corrections and changes, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred. For more information on your rights and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, click here: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/fcra/index.html.
- If an identity thief has changed the billing address on an existing credit card account, close the account immediately. When you open a new account, ask that a password be used before any inquiries or changes can be made on the account.
- If an identity thief has accessed your bank accounts, checking account or ATM card, close the accounts immediately. When you open new accounts, insist on password-only access. If your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment. If your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card immediately and get another issued with a new PIN.
- If an identity thief has established new phone or wireless service in your name and/or is making unauthorized calls that appear to come from-and are billed to-your cellular phone, or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and calling card. Open new accounts and obtain new PINs.
The Bank of America and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) have joined forces to form a unique partnership to combat identity crime. Florida has a big identity crime problem. In 2006, our law enforcement community received more than 18,000 identity theft complaints. We are appealing to Florida residents to report any identity theft incidents immediately to your local law enforcement agency and to educate yourself about steps to prevent identity crimes and how to recover if you have been a victim of an identity crime. A good starting place is the web site the IACP and the Bank of America has set up at www.IDSafety.org. The Florida Police Chiefs Association?s ultimate goal is to educate you and to provide you with the tools to prevent identity crimes. Please visit www.IDSafety.org for more information on how you can learn about, prevent, and respond to identity crimes.