IDENTITY THEFT INFORMATION
What strikes young or old, male or female, rich or poor? Here's a hint: it topped the Federal Trade Commission's list
of consumer complaints in 2002, and has cost consumers $343 million during that year. If you guessed Identity
Theft, you are correct. There were approximately 500,000 identity theft victims who filed a police report in 2001.
What is Identity Theft? It's the act of using someone's personal information (such as a name, account number,
driver's license, health insurance card, or Social Security number, for example) without that person's knowledge, and
using the assumed identity to commit fraud or theft. Oftentimes, the personal information is used to get loans or open
credit-card accounts. Some victims who have had their identity stolen have lost job opportunities, been refused loans
and housing, been left with destroyed credit and reputations.
You can't prevent it from happening to you, but you can take precautions to make sure you're not an easy target!
Keep track of your personal information and only share the information with a company you know and trust.
Read and understand the fine print in every document.
Protect your Social Security number and mother´s maiden name. Avoid giving personal information out over
the phone. Never post your Social Security number on your checks, outside of envelopes, etc.
Minimize the number of identification information and financial cards you carry in your wallet and sign all
new credit cards upon receipt. Write “Check ID” after your signature as a note to shopkeepers to ask for
Keep your new and canceled checks in a safe place, and report lost or stolen checks to the issuing financial
Never leave receipts at bank machines, bank counters, trash receptacles, or unattended gas pumps. Save
them and match them against your monthly bills, and then shred them.
Buy only from secure Internet sites. Look for the closed lock icon to appear at the bottom of your browser to
check the site´s security status. Also, check the site´s privacy policies to make sure they are not distributing
or selling your name and information without your permission.
Shred any documents that have any personal information or credit account numbers on them before
discarding, including tax returns and unwanted credit card offers.
Report all lost or stolen credit cards. If you applied for a new credit card and it has not arrived in a timely
manner, call the bank or credit card company that is issuing the card.
Follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity
thief has changed your billing address to cover his/her tracks.
Notify your credit card companies and financial institutions in advance of any change of address or
telephone number. Make sure to contact the sender if your statements are not received in the mail by their
Monitor your credit. Check your credit report regularly from the three credit-reporting agencies for any
unfamiliar changes, such as new accounts, inquiries, or public records.
Order your Social Security Earnings and Benefits Statement annually to check for fraud by calling
By keeping an eye on your statements and regularly monitoring your credit, you will be taking measures to protect
your credit against the extensive damage of Identity Theft.
Recovering from identity theft
Fighting identity theft can be a time consuming and frustrating process. Once you become aware that your personal
information is being used fraudulently, your best defense is taking fast action to minimize future damage. You should
first contact your creditors to close any fraudulent accounts. Next, notify the three national crediting reporting
agencies by calling Experian at 1-888-397-3742 (this number has an electronic menu: You cannot talk to anyone at
Experian until you have a copy of your credit report, which includes a report number required to reach a live
representative), Equifax at 1-800-270-3435 and TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289.
Experian's fraud alert will remain for 90 days. All three credit reporting agencies (CRAs) will send you a
complimentary copy of your personal credit report and, as a further precaution, remove your name from prescreened
offer mailing lists. They will provide you with tips for recovering from fraud. They will also offer you the opportunity to
request that a fraud alert message be added to your personal credit report for an extended period of time. This
message says, "Fraudulent applications may be submitted in my name using correct personal information. Do not
extend credit without first contacting me personally and verifying all applicant information at (your day phone number)
or (your evening phone number). Date reported-(mm/yy)." This message will remain on your Experian report for
If you select this extended-time message, all three CRAs will provide you with a complimentary credit report each
month for three months so you may monitor your report for any further fraudulent activity.
Identity theft statistics
A person can spend a lifetime building a reputation for financial reliability, only to be victimized by identity theft, a
crime that can quickly undermine one's good credit. In dealing with the fallout of identity theft, victims often go through
a stressful, frustrating and time-consuming ordeal. Once a criminal obtains your Social Security number with a few
additional pieces of personal data, such as date of birth, driver's license and mother's maiden name, he or she can
apply for credit, loans or utility services in your name. According to the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft
Clearinghouse, the most typical types of identity theft are as follows:
Credit card fraud - More than half of all victims said that either a credit card account was opened in their
name or an existing account was being used without authorization.
Bank fraud - The thief either opens an unauthorized checking or savings account in another person's name
or writes checks on someone else's account, sometimes after stealing checks.
Communications services - A quarter of all victims said that a thief used their name to open service with a
utility such as the phone company.
Fraudulent loans - The thief uses the victim's identity to obtain a loan for a car or other item.
How to protect yourself
Review the following tips from CreditExpert to learn how you can help protect your personal information and avoid
being victimized by an identity thief.
Step # 1 - Shred pre-approved credit card offers
If you decide not to accept a pre-approved credit offer, shred it before you throw it away. That goes for any other
document imprinted with your Social Security number, date of birth, driver's license, phone number and any type of
financial account or utility account number. Your trash can be a gold mine for thieves, so make sure this critical
information is shredded before it leaves your house. If you do not want to receive pre-approved credit offers, call 1-
888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) to be removed from the lists of major credit bureau lists.
Step # 2 - Don't display critical information
Do not print your Social Security number, phone number, date of birth or credit card account number on your checks,
and don't give this information to a merchant who wants to write it on your check at the time of purchase.
Step # 3 - Secure your mail
Stealing mail is another way that identity thieves obtain your personal information. Consider buying a lockable
mailbox if your current mailbox is unsecured. If your mail suddenly stops coming, call the post office immediately.
Identity thieves have been know to divert a victim's mail by filing a change of address form.
Step # 4 - Monitor your credit
Monitor your credit report on a regular basis. If you find a change of address you did not initiate or accounts you did
not apply for, check out Experian's Fraud Center or call 1-888-397-3742 and request a copy of your personal credit
report. The credit report will include contact information for requesting an investigation of incorrect information. It's
also important to watch your monthly billing statements for errors.
What to do if you're a victim
Once you become aware that your personal information is being used fraudulently, your best defense is taking fast
action to minimize future damage. You should first contact your creditors to close any fraudulent accounts. Next,
notify the national crediting reporting agencies by calling Experian® at 1-888-397-3742, Equifax® at 1-800-270-3435
and TransUnion® at 1-800-680-7289.
Experian's fraud alert will remain for 90 days. Credit Reporting Agencies (CRA) will send you a complimentary copy
of your personal credit report as legislated for victims of fraud, and as a further precaution, remove your name from
prescreened offer mailing lists. They will provide you with tips for recovering from fraud. They will also offer you the
opportunity to request that a fraud alert message be added to your personal credit report for an extended period of
time. This message says, "Fraudulent applications may be submitted in my name using correct personal information.
Do not extend credit without first contacting me personally and verifying all applicant information at (your day phone
number) or (your evening phone number). Date reported-(mm/yy)." This message will remain on your Experian report
for seven years.
The fine print
Understanding the terms and conditions of your credit card is important in order to maintain your financial health.
The terms and conditions will vary depending on your credit card issuer, but we'll explain basic terms and conditions
in this section. You also can call your credit card issuer if you have any questions about your terms and conditions.
Annual percentage rate
The annual percentage rate varies by credit card. Many card issuers will offer introductory offers as low as 0% for a
limited time, but you could jeopardize that offer if your payment is ever late or your account goes over your credit
limit. Remember that rates that are "too good to be true" usually expire after a short time and much higher rates then
go into effect.
Grace period for purchases
The grace period varies from 20 days to 25 days depending on the card issuer. The finance charge applies after the
grace period ends if the balance isn't paid in full.
Many card issuers do not charge an annual fee, but it's always a good idea to see if the card issuer does before you
accept the credit card offer.
Minimum finance charge
If you carry a balance on your credit card, you will accrue a finance charge. Depending on the interest rate and
your credit card company's policy, you will be charged a certain percentage of the outstanding balance (and
sometimes a percentage for any new purchases as well).
In the case of a very small balance, a minimum finance charge will be billed to you instead of the actual interest rate.
In other words, if you had a balance of $5 on your credit card and the finance charge is 4% of your total balance, you
will not be charged $ .20, you will be charged a minimum of $ .50. The minimum finance charge for most credit card
companies is somewhere between a total of $.50 to $1.
Always investigate your card's minimum finance charge because it can add to your monthly balance. Please read
your service agreement for details.
Transaction fee for cash advances
You'll want to keep your cash advances to a minimum because several additional fees can be attached to this
transaction, such as teller fees and transaction fees up to 3%. In most cases a grace period will not apply to the
Over limit fee
Having your credit card balance over the limit can cause problems too. Card issuers can charge you up to $29 every
time your card is over the limit, and sometimes paying only the minimum balance will not put you back under your
credit limit. Avoid spending to your credit limit on any account. Not only do you risk over-limit charges, but using all
(and more) of your available credit is viewed negatively by lenders.
Types of debt
Debt can take many forms, from a single dollar to millions of them, loaned by a family member or a corporate bank.
We have listed the basic types of debt with links to in-depth articles listed throughout this Web site.
Credit card - When utilizing these cards to purchase goods or services, the user is taking out a loan that
comes due when the bill arrives each month. If the balance is not paid, interest is charged. The cost of such
convenience varies, which is why consumers need to educate themselves about the card's annual
percentage rate, annual fees and grace period.
Mortgage - This legal document sets a lien upon a property until the loan is repaid. With an adjustable-rate
mortgage (ARM), the interest rate can climb according to changes in a particular index once the initial low-
interest period is over after a few years. With a fixed-rate mortgage, the interest rate remains the same
throughout the loan period. Generally a home equity loan, a second mortgage is paid only after the first one
is paid in case of a default.
Auto loan - A loan to purchase a vehicle, generally it is repaid in segments, usually on a monthly basis.
Student loan - These loans finance a student's higher education and come through the federal government,
private institutions, the university itself or other funds. Some are based on need and some are not. Private
loans from financial institutions usually are secured by assets, but the federally subsidized loans are not.
Consolidated loan - This is a loan that combines two or more other loans, so that the consumer faces only
one bill carrying the same interest rate each month.
Retail card - These cards are issued by retailers such as department stores and often offer certain benefits
such as discounts and private sales. While these cards are usually free of annual fees, they can carry
relatively high finance charges if the consumer doesn't pay off his or her balance after each bill.
Payday loans - These are short-term loans (typically two weeks or less) provided by payday loan services,
which charge a relatively high amount of interest. Generally, to be approved, borrowers have to show a
driver's license or other valid identification, their latest checking account statement, a recent pay stub and a
list of references. Borrowers write out a check to the service when they receive the loan. That check is not
cashed until after payday.
This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal,
financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial
issues involved with credit decisions.