IDENTITY THEFT What Is Identity Theft? Various pieces of personal information make up your identity, such as your name, address, Social Insurance or Social Security number, or your bank account number. Identity Theft is when someone uses your personal or financial information without your knowledge. Identity Theft may be used to facilitate crimes such as illegal immigration, terrorism, espionage, or blackmail. How Serious is Identity Theft? Identity Theft is usually just a part of other criminal activities, but some U.S. credit reporting agencies quote increases of 36% to 53% in crimes involving Identity Theft in the most recent 5 year period. Law enforcement officials agree that Identity Theft is one of the fastest growing financial crimes. More than 8 million Americans fall victim each year. In addition to the financial losses that go with Identity Theft, the emotional impact on victims is also significant. If you’ve ever lost your wallet or purse, you’ll know that awful sinking feeling that you are no longer in control of your life. And you’ll wonder if someone else is. Even if you recover your wallet or purse, you’ll still worry about what someone may have done with your information. If your identity has been used by someone else, you may have to spend large amounts of time dealing with problems such as bounced checks, loan denials, credit card application denials, and debt collection harassment. How Does Identity Theft Occur? Stealing someone’s identity is often quite simple: it’s just a matter of getting hold of some identifiable information or documents about the victim. There are many ways to do this, such as… Stealing mail or rummaging through rubbish containing personal data (“dumpster diving”); Retrieving information from redundant equipment, such as old computers; Researching about the victim in government registers, internet search engines, or public records search services; Stealing payment or identification cards; Eavesdropping on public transactions (“shoulder surfing”); Stealing personal information in computer databases (“Trojan horses, or “hacking”); Advertising bogus job offers; Infiltrating large organizations that store personal information; Impersonating someone from a trusted financial organization to get personal information (“phishing”); Browsing through social network (MySpace, Faceboook, etc.) sites online for posted personal information; Changing your address information, to divert billing statements to another location. Protecting Your Personal Identity Information – General Rules The strongest protection against Identity Theft is not to identify at all. This ensures that information cannot be reused to impersonate an individual elsewhere. Identity Theft is often a case of too little privacy or too much identification. Identity Theft often occurs because victims have been too naive about who they provide their information to. Carefully guarding who one gives personal information to is thus the best protection against the severe losses involved in Identity Theft. This includes being careful about who knows the passwords or coded answers to pre-set questions that many activities and organizations in modern society require people to provide. While these are a convenience for all, particularly in facilitating transactions via the telephone or the internet, they do raise the risk of other parties obtaining such key information. How The Estate Vault® Protects Your Personal Identity Information The Estate Vault® has been created to collect all your personal information in one place. This makes it the best place to protect your personal identity. Here’s how we protect your data… 1. All the information that you enter into your personal Estate Vault® is guarded by the most stringent security system available. 2. Most importantly, you and only you control access, through your password, to the information that you enter into personal Estate Vault®. Nobody who works at or for The Estate Vault® has access to your information. 3. You control your information in four optional ways: You can keep The Estate Vault® program on your home computer or laptop, or; You may upload information to our secure servers, or; You may input information directly over the web onto our secure servers, or; You may store your information on a disk or USB device and place it in your safety deposit box. You can, if you so choose, let someone else have access to certain sections of your Estate Vault® information - but you must give them your password before they can gain access to it. You also can remove access by that individual at the click of a button. 4. Our security protocols for the personal Estate Vault® information on our secure servers are as stringent as they can be. The servers are housed in the same location as all Federal Government (including Department of Defense) servers. They can be accessed only by authorized security officers who have retinal scan and other biometric device clearance. They are maintained and monitored constantly by The Estate Vault® and ISP Primus communication systems. 5. The Estate Vault’s ID Theft Insurance: If, despite all precautions, a member of The Estate Vault® is the suffers from a case of Identity Theft, The Estate Vault® covers the costs incurred by each of its members in regaining their identity. The following is a general description of the coverage; for full details please call the hotlines found on the website… Each Member receives up to $25,000 worth of insurance coverage provided by a member company of American International Group, Inc. This coverage will help offset some of the cost of restoring their identity to its original status including: (a) Lost Wages: $500.00 per week, for 4 weeks maximum; (b) Re-Filing of Loans; (c) Defense Costs for certain Civil Law Suits; including… Reasonable and necessary fees and expenses incurred in Canada or the United States by the insured, with AIG’s consent, for an attorney appointed by them for… i. Defending any civil suit brought against the insured by a creditor, collection agency or other entity acting on behalf of a creditor for non- payment of goods or services or default on a loan solely as a result of a stolen identity event ; and ii. Removing any civil judgment wrongfully entered against the insured solely as a result of a stolen identity event. (d) Reimbursement of Fees: Covering payment of reasonable and necessary fees. 6. The Estate Vault’s Auto Credit Freeze Service: The Estate Vault® gives you the tools that you need and automates the process of placing a security freeze on your credit files of all 3 major credit bureaus. To place a freeze on your credit bureau data, log into your Estate Vault and click on to the “Freeze my Credit Bureau” button on the main dashboard page. Why You Need a Credit Freeze Service One of the best identity theft prevention tools is the security freeze. A security freeze gives consumers the choice to “freeze” or lock access to their credit file against anyone trying to open up a new account or to get new credit in their name. Credit card companies, merchants, other businesses, and government entities do not always adequately safeguard consumers' private financial information, making it relatively easy for thieves to steal this data and use it to take out new credit or to rack up charges on existing accounts. When a security freeze is in place at all three major credit reporting agencies, a consumer's credit report and credit score cannot be shared with potential creditors, or other persons considering opening new accounts, unless the consumer decides to unlock the file by contacting a consumer reporting agency and providing a PIN or password. Most businesses will not issue new credit or provide goods or services for later payment to an individual without first reviewing his or her credit report or credit score. If an individual consumer reporting file is frozen and an imposter applies for credit in that individual's name, a creditor likely would deny the imposter's application, preventing Identity Theft. Under a security freeze law, people who choose to freeze access to their consumer reporting files may temporarily lift the freeze when they want to use their own credit files. When a consumer places the freeze, the consumer reporting agency issues a unique PIN to the consumer that can be used to "thaw" or lift the security freeze for a particular entity or for a designated period of time. What does placing a security freeze mean? If your consumer reporting file is frozen, even someone who knows your name, date of birth and Social Security Number should be stopped from opening new accounts in your name. Can I apply for credit when my file is frozen? When you want additional credit, you can open your file with a PIN or a password and the business extending the credit will decide whether to issue the credit. How does a U.S. state security freeze differ from a federal fraud alert? A security freeze is a mechanism to prevent new account identity theft: it is the only way for a consumer to limit access to his or her credit reporting file. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act creates two types of fraud alerts, but the only type available to consumers who have not yet been victims of Identity Theft, called the Initial Fraud Alert, expires after 90 days, unless renewed. This very short time makes this a poor tool for ID theft prevention. The Extended Fraud Alert is restricted to ID theft victims. Neither the initial nor the extended fraud alert stops the release of the credit report or the credit score. Instead, under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, when a fraud alert is attached to a credit file, potential creditors must take certain steps to verify a credit applicant's identity before extending credit. The fraud alert, however, does not prevent the potential creditor from getting the credit report or the credit score. A Security Freeze grants each consumer the right to prevent the credit reporting agency from issuing his or her credit report to any applicant looking to issue new credit or to open a new account. Unlike the Federal Fraud Alert, the Security Freeze actually blocks access to the consumer credit report except for circumstances such as review of existing accounts, other limited purposes, but only with the express permission of the consumer. Would anyone have access to a consumer's credit file if it is frozen? Yes, the State Security Freeze laws include some necessary exemptions to the freeze. Security freezes do not apply to any person or entity with which the consumer has an existing account. They also do not apply to a limited number of other parties, such as law enforcement agencies and certain governmental agencies that need them for investigations and other statutory responsibilities. Which states already have passed laws giving consumers the right to a security freeze? Thirty nine states and the District of Columbia have passed security freeze laws: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. (For more information, see Consumers Union’s Guide to the Security Freeze) Is the Security Freeze available in states that haven’t passed laws requiring it? As of November 1, 2007, all three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) made the Security Freeze option available to consumers living in the eleven states that had not passed laws requiring it. How do I place a Security Freeze? Detailed instructions for placing the freeze can be found in the Consumers Union’s Guide to the Security Freeze Does placing a Security Freeze affect my credit score? No. Placing a freeze has no effect on your credit score. How long does a Security Freeze last? A freeze generally lasts until you remove it. (The Estate Vault® would like to thank the Consumers Union Financial Services Campaign for providing the above information on Security Freezes, which was been updated on 10.24.07) What can the victim of Identity Theft do in Canada? In Canada, a Fraud Alert is valid for 6 years and provides the same kind of service as a freeze does in the U.S.A. Conclusion We hope that this Briefing helps you improve your understanding of the difficult issue of Identity Theft. We also hope that it gives you a better understanding of the lengths that The Estate Vault® goes to in protecting your personal information, as well as how you may go about freezing your credit file, if you feel the need exists, without spending the hundreds of dollars a year that other programs charge. But, remember, the best protector of your information is you. Be aware, be careful… and use The Estate Vault® to keep all your important data in one secure place.