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Protect Yourself / Identity Theft Information

Two Common Internet Identity Theft Scams

Phishing

Phishing is an e-mail scam that attempts to trick consumers into revealing personal information through fake Web sites or in a reply e-mail. Typically the e-mails and Web sites use familiar logos and slick graphics to deceive consumers into thinking the sender or Web site owner is a company they know or a government agency. The FBI is calling phishing the hottest and most troubling new scam on the Internet.

How does it work? In the typical phishing scam, you receive an e-mail supposedly from a company or financial institution you may do business with. The e-mail describes a reason you must "verify" or "resubmit" confidential information - such as bank account and credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords and personal identification numbers - using a return e-mail, a form on a linked Web site or a pop-up message with the name and the logo of the company. Perhaps you're told that your bank account information has then been lost or stolen or that limits may be imposed on your account unless you provide additional details. If you comply, the thieves hiding behind the seemingly legitimate Web site or e-mail can use the information to make unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account, pay for online purchases using your credit card, or even sell your personal information to other thieves.

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Spyware

Spyware is a computer software program that gathers information about a computer user, and in most cases without the user's knowledge or informed consent. Spyware applications are inadvertently installed when visiting a Web site or clicking a hyperlink. The software can gather and transmit personal information (e-mail addresses, passwords, credit card numbers, PINs) to another organization or person and use it illegally. It can also cause problems with computer resources, causing it to run slowly or erratically.

How do I protect my computer from spyware?

  • To prevent the Spyware installation without your consent, remember not to download any freeware onto the computer.
  • You may already be using anti-virus software, but to be effective, the software should be updated regularly with the latest virus definition files.
  • Change your online banking password regularly to protect your personal data.
  • Always run an anti-virus software program and anti-Spyware software before you download other programs or open e-mails.
  • If you think that you have installed such software in your computer, you may wish to seek professional IT advice on steps to be taken to uninstall the software from your computer.

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What to do if it happens to you

This guide provides victims of identity theft with the major resources to contact. Unfortunately, at this time victims themselves are burdened with resolving the problem. You must act quickly and assertively to minimize the damage.

In dealing with the authorities and financial institutions, keep a log of all conversations, including dates, names, and phone numbers. Note time spent and any expenses incurred, in case you are able to request restitution in a later judgment or conviction against the thief. Confirm conversations in writing. Send correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep copies of all letters and documents.

1. Credit Bureaus

Immediately call the fraud units of the three credit reporting companies:

Equifax:
P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta, GA 30348
Report fraud: Call 1-800-525-6285 and write to address above.
Order credit report: 1-800-685-1111
Web: www.equifax.com

Experian (formerly TRW):
P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
Report fraud: Call 1-888-397-3742 and write to address above. 
Fax: 1-800-301-7196
Order credit report: 1-888-397-3742
Web: www.experian.com

Trans Union:
P.O. Box 1426, Buffalo, NY 14231
Report fraud: 1-800-680-7289 and write to address above.
Order credit report: 1-800-632-1765
Web: www.transunion.com

Report the theft of your credit cards or numbers and request a credit report (free to identity theft victims). Ask that your file be flagged with a fraud alert. Add a victim's statement to your report. ("My ID has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Contact me at [your phone number] to verify all applications.") Ask how long the fraud alert is posted on your file, and how you can extend it if necessary.

Be aware that these measures may not entirely stop new fraudulent accounts from being opened by the imposter. Request a free copy of your credit report every few months so you can monitor any new fraudulent activity.

Ask the credit bureaus for names and phone numbers of credit grantors with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened. Ask the credit bureaus to remove inquiries that have been generated due to the fraudulent access. You may also ask the credit bureaus to notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months in order to alert them to the disputed and erroneous information (two years for employers). When you provide your police report to the credit bureaus, they must remove the fraudulent accounts from your credit report. (See #3 below.)

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2. Creditors

Contact all creditors immediately with whom your name has been used fraudulently, by phone and in writing. You may be asked to fill out fraud affidavits. (No law requires these to be notarized at your own expense.) Get replacement cards with new account numbers for your own accounts that have been used fraudulently. Ask that old accounts be processed as "account closed at consumer's request" (better than "card lost or stolen" because it can be interpreted as blaming you.) Monitor your mail and bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity. Report it immediately to creditor grantors.

3. Law Enforcement

Report the crime to your local police or sheriff's department. You might also need to report it to police departments where the crime occurred. Give them as much documented evidence as possible. Make sure the police report lists the fraud accounts. Get a copy of the report. Keep the phone number of your investigator handy and give it to creditors and others who require verification of your case. Credit card companies and banks may require you to show the report in order to verify the crime. It is a violation of federal law (18 USC 1028) and the laws of many states to assume someone's identity for fraudulent purposes. Some police departments do not write reports on such crimes, so be persistent! Also, report to the Federal Trade Commission at (877) IDTHEFT. (Web: www.consumer.gov/idtheft)

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4. Stolen Checks

If you have had checks stolen or bank/credit union accounts set up fraudulently, report it to the appropriate check verification companies (see below). Put stop payments on any outstanding checks that you are unsure of. Cancel your checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers. Give the bank a secret password for your account (not mother's maiden name). If your own checks are rejected at stores where you shop, contact the check verification company that the merchant uses.

5. ATM Cards

If your ATM or debit card has been stolen or compromised, report it immediately. Get a new card, account number and password. Do not use your old password. When creating a password, do not use common numbers like the last four digits of your SSN or your birth date. Monitor your account statement. You may be liable if fraud is not reported quickly.

6. Fraudulent Change of Address

Notify the local Postal Inspector if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of your address with the post office or has used the mail to commit fraud. (Call the U.S. Post Office to obtain the phone number). Find out where fraudulent credit cards were sent. Notify the local Postmaster for that address to forward all mail in your name to your own address. You may also need to talk with the mail carrier. (Web: www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect)

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7. Secret Service Jurisdiction

The Secret Service has jurisdiction over financial fraud but, based on U.S. Attorney guidelines, it usually does not investigate individual cases unless the dollar amount is high or you are one of many victims of a fraud ring. To interest the Secret Service in your case, you may want to ask the fraud department of the credit card companies, banks and/or credit unions as well as the police investigator, to notify the Secret Service agent they work with. (Web: www.treas.gov/usss)

8. Social Security Number (SSN) Misuse

Call the Social Security Administration to report fraudulent use of your SSN. As a last resort, you might want to try to change your number, although we do not recommend it except for the most serious cases. The SSA will only change the number if you fit their fraud victim criteria. Also, order a copy of your Personal Earnings and Benefits Statement and check it for accuracy. The thief might be using your SSN for employment purposes. (Web: www.ssa.gov)

9. Passports

Whether you have a passport or not, write the passport office to alert them to anyone ordering a passport fraudulently.

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10. Phone Service

If your long distance calling card has been stolen or there are fraudulent charges on the bill, cancel the account and open a new one. Provide a password that must be used any time the account is changed.

11. Driver's License Number Misuse

You may need to change your driver's license number if someone is using yours as ID on bad checks or for other types of fraud. Call the state office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name. Put a fraud alert on your license. Go to your local DMV to request a new number. Fill out the DMV's complaint form to begin the investigation process. Send supporting documents with the completed form to the nearest DMV investigation office.

12. Victim Statements

If the imposter is apprehended by law enforcement and stands trial, write a victim impact letter to the judge handling the case. Contact the victim-witness assistance program in your area for further information on how to make your voice heard in the legal proceedings.

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Resources

To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit for all three bureaus, call (888) 5OPTOUT. You may choose a two year opt-out period or permanent opt-out status.

Remember, you are entitled to a free credit report if you are a victim of identity theft, if you have been denied credit, if you receive welfare benefits, or if you are unemployed.

Social Security Administration - Report fraud: 1-800-269-0271
Order Earnings & Benefits Statement: 1-800-772-1213
Web: www.ssa.gov

To remove your name from mail and phone lists - Direct Marketing Association (Web: www.the-dma.org)

  • Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735
  • Telephone Preference Service, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735

To report fraudulent use of your checks

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Other Useful Resources

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