What Is Identity Theft?

You’ve applied for a loan for a car, furniture, or maybe a house, and you’ve been turned down by the financial institution. They say you’re past due on a lot of payments for accounts that you don’t even know about. You may be a victim of identity theft! Identity theft is the criminal act of gaining personal financial information from victims to use them for personal gain. Unfortunately, identity theft is one of the fastest growing white collar crimes in the United States, and its victims have lost billions of dollars through fraud.

Thieves are looking for all types of information to use for their benefit. They can use names, addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth, account numbers, personal identification numbers and other pieces of information to steal your identity. Once they have this information, criminals will use it to obtain information on your accounts, obtain new loans and credit cards, and find other ways to gain financially.

Criminals looking for information can find it in a number of places. They will search your mail and your trash for bank statements, pre-approved card offers, tax information, pay stubs and more. Thieves will also look to steal your wallet or purse to get your drivers license or credit card.

If you feel you have been a victim of Identity theft, you need to act at once. You should:

1. Notify the police

2. Get and review your credit report

3. Fill out an ID Theft Affidavit

4. Notify your creditors

The process to get your identity back and to undo everything that the criminals have done is a long process. You must work with all of your old creditors, new creditors that were set up by the criminal, and the police. Depending upon the severity of the fraud, it may take several years to get back to the pre-ID theft level.

However, you can do something about identity theft, and that is through prevention. Here are some tips on how to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft:

Limit what you carry. If you don’t use all your credit cards, only carry the ones that you use regularly.

Be careful of any e-mails you receive from financial institutions, and don’t enter any personal financial information asked for in the e-mail. Many phishing attempts to get personal financial information are from e-mail.

Balance your checking account statements and review your credit card statements for accuracy.

Shred all receipts and statements when you are finished with them, instead of throwing them away.

If you don’t receive a statement or correspondence you are expecting, contact the financial institution.

Regularly review your credit report for accuracy.

In 2003, the U.S. government passed the FACT Act. A portion of the act deals with the availability of information for consumers. From this legislation, consumers are able to get a free credit report on an annual basis from the three major credit bureaus. To receive your credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com.

Identity Theft is a major problem in the U.S. and you may be a victim and not know it. For more information visit one of these websites:

Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Website

U.S. Department of Justice

Social Security Administration