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Identity Theft

The 1990's spawned a new variety of criminals called identity thieves. Identity thieves look for valuable personal information that belongs to others. This may include bank account, credit card, and social security information. For the identity thief, a minimal amount of information can be used to establish a new identity. This allows the criminal to do such things as open bank and credit card accounts, get loans, or obtain employment.

In recent years, identity theft has become one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Unfortunately, it typically takes months before the victim is made aware of any wrongdoing. Usually the victim learns of the crime after he or she receives a letter from a collection agency or is turned down for a loan because of a poor credit rating. Then the victim faces numerous obstacles and must spend hours sorting through the nightmare of reclaiming his or her identity.

Individuals probably can't completely prevent identity theft from occurring, especially if someone is determined to commit the crime. However, you can minimize your risk by managing your personal information wisely. Find out how it will be used, and ask if you can choose to have it kept confidential. You should also become familiar with your billing cycles, contacting creditors if bills don't arrive on time. Outgoing mail should be deposited in a post office collection box, and mail should be removed from your home mailbox promptly after it is delivered. Prior to taking a vacation, request that the United States Postal Service do a mail hold until you are scheduled to return.

It is important to avoid using easily identified personal information as passwords or codes. Do not use the last four digits of your social security number, your phone number, or consecutive or duplicate numbers, such as 2,3,4,5 or 3333. Limit the amount of personal information you carry in your wallet to what you actually use and need.

Never give personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact or you are confident of the identity of the individual you are dealing with. Identity thieves will pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers, and even government agencies to get you to reveal your social security number, mother's maiden name, and other personal identifying information.

Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Thwart an identity thief who may pick through the trash or recycle bins to capture personal information by tearing, cutting, or shredding charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank statements, expired charge cards, and credit offers received in the mail. Be cautious about where you leave personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having service work done in your home.

Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union) every year. Check it for accuracy and be certain that you have authorized all credit activity listed. Reviewing your report on a regular basis can help to catch mistakes and fraud before they wreck havoc on your personal finances. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will take complaints from those whose identities have been stolen. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you can call their Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338). The FTC will put your information into a secure consumer fraud database and may, in appropriate cases, share it with law enforcement agencies. The FTC also has an identity theft affidavit. This is a form victims may use to alert companies when a new unauthorized account was opened in his or her name.

What happens to personal information you provide to companies, marketers, and government agencies? They may use your information just for necessary processing. Or, they may also use it to create a profile about you that will allow them to contact you about other products, services, or promotions. However, it's also possible that they may share your information with others. Consumers have been receiving more choices about how their personal information is used. For example, often you may be allowed to "opt out" of having information shared with others for promotional purposes. Rather than just tearing up and throwing out pre-screened credit card offers received in the mail, opt out of receiving them by calling 1-888-567-8688.

The Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) mail, email, and telephone preference services allow consumers to opt out of direct mail marketing, email marketing, and/or telemarketing solicitations from many national companies. The consumer's name will not be on their lists, so companies can't rent or sell the name to other companies.

To remove your email address from many national direct email lists, visit http://www.e-mps.org. If you would like to avoid unwanted phone calls from many national marketers, send your name, address, and telephone number to: DMA Telephone Preference Service, Preference Service Manager, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-6700. To remove your name from many national direct mail lists, write to: DMA Mail Preference Service, Preference Service Manager, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-6700. For more information, visit http://www.the-dma.org.

 
If You Are a Victim
Sometimes an identity thief can strike even if you have been very careful about keeping your personal information safe. If you suspect that your personal information has been stolen or misappropriated to commit fraud or theft, take action immediately, and keep a record of your conversations and correspondence. The information below explains what identity theft victims can do in response to most of these crimes.
  1. Credit bureaus. Immediately call the fraud units of the three credit reporting agencies - Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. (See their addresses and phone numbers at the end of this document.) Report the theft of your credit cards or numbers. Ask that your account be flagged. Also, add a victim's statement to your report, up to 100 words. ("My ID has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Contact me at [your telephone number] to verify all applications.") Be sure to ask how long the fraud alert is posted on your account 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.

  2. Creditors. Immediately contact all creditors with whom your name has been used fraudulently - by phone and in writing. Get replacement cards with new account numbers as necessary. Ask that old accounts be processed as "account closed at consumer's request." (This is better than indicating "card lost or stolen.")

  3. Law enforcement. Report the crime to the law enforcement agency where you reside. Give them as much documented evidence as possible. Get a copy of your police report. Keep the report number handy and give it to creditors and others who require verification of your case.

  4. Stolen checks. If you have had checks stolen or bank accounts set up fraudulently, report it to the check verification companies. 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 your mother's maiden name or anything else that is easy for identity thieves to determine.

  5. ATM cards. If your ATM card has been stolen or is compromised, get a new card, account number, and password. Do not use your old password.

  6. Fraudulent change of address. Notify the local postal inspector if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of address with the post office or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud. Find out where fraudulent credit cards were sent. Notify the local postmaster for that address, requesting that all mail in your name be forwarded to your correct address.

  7. Social security number misuse. Send a letter to the Social Security Administration by registered mail (return receipt requested). Also, order a copy of your Earnings and Benefits Statement by calling 1-800-772-1213. Upon receipt, check it for accuracy.

  8. Passports. If you have a passport, notify the passport office in writing to be on the lookout for anyone fraudulently ordering a new passport.

  9. Phone Service. If your long distance calling card has been stolen or you discover fraudulent charges on your bill, cancel the account and open a new one. Provide a password to be used whenever changes are to be made to the account.

  10. Driver license number misuse. You may need to change your driver license number if someone is using it as identification on bad checks. Call the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name and to put a fraud alert on your license. Complete the DMV's complaint form to begin the fraud investigation process. Send supporting documents with the complaint form to the nearest DMV investigation office.

  11. False civil and criminal judgments. Sometimes victims of identity theft are wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the imposter. If a civil judgment has been entered in your name for actions taken by an imposter, contact the court where the judgment was entered and report that you are a victim of identity theft. If you are wrongfully prosecuted for criminal charges, contact the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Ask how to clear your name.
 
Useful Documents
pdf Florida Identity Theft Victim Kit pdf IRS ID Theft Pamphlet
Sample Letters
  Dealing w/ Credit Reporting Agencies (Initial)   Dealing w/ Law Enforcement (Police Report)
  Dealing w/ Credit Reporting Agencies (Follow Up)   Dealing w/ Postal Authorities
 Dealing w/ Credit Grantors w/ Fraud  Dealing w/ Social Security Administration
 Dealing w/ Credit Grantors (Collection Agency)  Dealing w/ IRS State Tax Board
 Dealing w/ Credit Grantors (Non-Fraud)  Dealing w/ Stolen Checks Etc.
 Dealing w/ Credit Grantors (Other Non-Fraud)  
 
Other Useful Resources
Assistance in obtaining government agency telephone numbers:
Federal Government Information Center 1-800-688-9889
http://www.firstgov.gov
Help with any type of consumer complaint:
Federal Trade Commission 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft2012
 
Federal Law
Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act Public Laws 105.318, 112: Stat. 3007 (October 30, 1998)
Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): 15 U.S.C. 1681 et. Seq.
 
State Law
Criminal Use of Personal Identification Information F.S.S. 817.568
http://www.flsenate.gov/statutes/index.cfm
 
Other Useful Internet Addresses
Department of Justice (Identity Theft Search) - http://www.usdoj.gov/
Federal Trade Commission - http://www.ftc.gov
U.S. Postal Inspection Service - http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Identity Theft Website - http://www.myfloridalegal.com/identitytheft
 
Credit Reporting Bureaus
Send all correspondence by registered mail.
Equifax
Mailing address: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, Georgia 30374
To report fraud or order a credit report, call 1-800-685-1111
Experian
Mailing address: P.O. Box 1017, Allen, Texas 75013
To report fraud or order a credit report, call 1-800-749-7576
Trans Union
Mailing address: P.O. Box 390, Springfield, Pennsylvania 19064
To report fraud or order a credit report, call 1-800-680-7289

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