Protecting Your Identity
Identity theft occurs when one person uses another's
identification - name, address, driver's license number, social security number,
mother's maiden name, birth date - to obtain credit, open checking accounts,
rent apartments, and even obtain jobs.
Identity theft can happen in a number of ways. It may begin:
· with a lost or stolen wallet or purse
· when a computer hacker steals your credit card number from a corporate
· when an employee steals your personal financial information from a company
that holds it
· when credit card applications, statements, or checks are stolen from your
trash or mail
Identity thieves will use the identification information to obtain new credit
cards, open checking accounts, get a bogus driver's license or Social Security
card, make long distance calls, and so on. ID theft is a felony crime and should
be reported to your local law enforcement agency.
Because of the nature of the crime, victims often do not realize their identity
has been stolen until they are denied credit, turned down for a job, or sent a
bill for purchases they did not make. By that time, the consumer's good name and
credit history may be in ruins. Rebuilding good credit in the aftermath of
identity theft can take months or even years.
DETECTING IDENTITY THEFT:
These are some of the warning signs of identity theft:
· You receive bills from a credit account you did not open, or see unauthorized
charges on your credit, long distance, or bank accounts.
· You are contacted by a collection agency regarding a debt you did not incur.
· Checks disappear from your checkbook.
· Bank and credit billing statements do not arrive on schedule.
· Your credit report shows accounts you do not remember opening.
· You are turned down for a credit card, loan, mortgage or other form of credit
due to unauthorized debts on your credit report.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM OF IDENTITY THEFT:
If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, follow these
· As soon as possible, file a theft report with the police. Many banks and
credit agencies require such a report before they will acknowledge that a theft
· Contact the three primary credit reporting bureaus to have a fraud alert
placed on your report. Review your credit reports again every few months to
check for fraudulent new accounts.
· Send a brief victim statement to each of the credit bureaus to include in your
file. In the statement, explain to the best of your knowledge how the identity
· If your wallet or purse is stolen, immediately cancel your old credit cards
and get replacements. If you have a number of cards, you should consider
enrolling in a credit card registry service, which will notify all of your
creditors after one call from you.
· Put a "stop payment" on all lost or stolen checks. Be aware, however, that
many banks require your signature or a signed affidavit to begin a stop payment
order, and a fee may be imposed. If necessary, ask your bank to open a new
account with a new number. If someone passes one of your stolen checks at a
store, file a fraudulent use report with the merchant's check verification
· If your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, contact the issue to cancel the
card. If you get a new ATM or debit card, do not use your old password.
· If someone else has opened credit card accounts in your name without
authorization, contact the creditors immediately by phone and in writing. Cancel
· Notify the post office if you believe someone has filed a change of address
form in your name, or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud in your
· If your long distance calling card is stolen, or if you find unauthorized
charges on your bill, report it to the security or fraud department at your long
distance carrier. Ask to have the old account closed and a new account number
issued to you. Also ask the company to require a secret password before making
changes to your account.
· If you are a victim of theft, you may get a call from someone posing as a bank
representative or law enforcement official. The caller will say that information
is needed to prepare a replacement credit card, update a credit report, and so
on. If this happens, do not give out any account information - you have no way
of knowing who is really on the other end of the line.
· If another person is arrested and falsely uses your name or other personal
information to establish their identity, Texas law allows you to have this
information expunged from the arrest record. Contact the Texas Department of
Public Safety for more information on the expunction process.
WHAT IS PERSONAL INFORMATION?
Any information that an imposter can use to commit fraud, such as:
· Social Security number
· birth date
· driver's license number
· ATM or debit card PIN number
· bank account or credit card number
· long distance phone PIN number
While there is no foolproof way to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft,
you can take steps to minimize your risk.
· Periodically go through your wallet or purse and remove receipts, credit
cards you rarely use, and other items that contain personal financial
information useful to a thief. Carry no more than you absolutely need for
· Memorize all passwords and PIN numbers. Don't carry any record of these
numbers in your wallet or purse. Ask your bank, long distance company and all
credit issuers to require a password before responding to inquiries or making
changes to an account.
· If you keep a lost-and-found tag on your key ring, do not use
your home address. Ask that they be mailed to a post office box or to your bank.
If your keys are stolen, reduce the thief's access to your personal property and
information by replacing the locks on your home and car.
Keep photocopies of your driver's license, credit cards, Social Security and
insurance cards and other contents of your wallet or purse, plus credit account,
tax records, cancelled checks and other personal financial information in a
secure place your home.
· You will need this information if your identity is compromised. Shred all such
records before throwing them away. Do not make them easily accessible to a
MAIL AND TELEPHONE SECURITY:
· Mail theft is common. Do not leave mail for the postal carrier to pick up.
Mail bills and other sensitive items at the post office.
· Consider installing a locked mailbox or using a post office box.
· Do not write account numbers on checks or on the outside of envelopes.
· If you order new checks or a new or reissued credit card, arrange for pickup
at your bank rather than delivery to your home. Never allow your driver's
license number or telephone number to be printed on your checks.
· If your bank or credit card statements do not arrive on time, call the issuer
to make sure they are being sent to the proper address. Also contact the Post
Office to see if a change of address has been filed in your name. A thief may
steal or divert your statements in order to hide illegal credit activity.
· Do not give your Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers to any
unsolicited callers. There is no way to verify their true identity over the
phone. If you are interested in the product or service, ask to have details sent
to you by mail or for an address where you can write to get more information.
· Sign up for the Texas "No Call List" maintained by the Public Utilities
Commission. This will stop most unwanted telemarketing calls to your home phone
for three years.
· Shield your hand when entering your PIN at a bank ATM or when making long
distance calls with your calling card. Identity thieves have been known to spy
on their victims with binoculars or video cameras to record this information.
In many cases today, identity theft is done by illegally accessing corporate
marketing and billing databases and stealing the personal information they
contain, victimizing thousands of people at a time. One key to safeguarding your
identity is to limit how much your personal financial information is stored in
· Sign up for the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service and
Telephone Preference Service. This will delete your name from members' marketing
lists for up to five years.
· Remove your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting
bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. This will limit the number of
pre-approved credit offers you receive.
· Your credit billing statements should give an address for correspondence other
than payment. Request, in writing, that all credit issuers remove your name from
their marketing and promotion lists.
· If any of your credit card issuers send random-issue convenience checks,
request in writing to be removed from that mailing list.
· Ask your bank about its privacy and information policies. Find out when your
bank may provide your account information to a third party. Request that you be
notified in advance and ask if it is possible to 'opt out' of this practice.
SOCIAL SECURITY INFORMATION:
· To guard against Social Security fraud, do not carry a Social Security
card with you unless needed for a job application.
· Release your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary or when
required by law. Ask the requestor if another identification number can be used
instead. Your Social Security number can give a thief access to your banking and
credit card accounts, insurance, and health benefits.
· Never print your Social Security number on your checks.
· If your workplace displays your Social Security number on a timecard or other
place open to public view, ask to have this procedure changed.
· If you are over age 25, you should receive a Social Security statement by mail
each year. Check your statement thoroughly and report any inaccuracies to the
Social Security Administration. You can order a copy of your statement by
calling 800-772-1213 or by accessing the Social Security Web site at
· A criminal may pose as an employer, loan officer or landlord to request a
copy of your credit report in an effort to access personal information. Order a
copy of your credit report at least once a year from each of the three credit
bureaus to check for inaccuracies or fraudulent use of accounts.
· Even if you have not been the victim of identity theft, consider asking the
credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your account. This alert instructs
creditors to call you personally to verify applicant information. While this
will mean that you can no longer get 'instant' credit, such as on-site approval
for store charge cards, it will also stop others from getting credit in your
name. Make sure to ask how long the alert will be in effect, and how to extend
it if necessary.
CREDIT / ATM / DEBIT CARDS:
· Reduce the number of credit cards you actively use, and cancel any
accounts you have not used for over six months. Any open account appears on your
credit report, and can be used by an identity thief.
· Use credit cards that have your photo on them. This makes it more difficult
for an imposter to use stolen cards at a store.
· If you receive an offer for a pre-approved credit card or loan but aren't
interested, shred the application form before throwing it away. Identity thieves
have been known to go through trash looking for useful financial information.
· Always take your credit card receipts and ATM slips after a transaction. Shred
them before throwing away.
· Check your bank account and credit billing statements carefully each month for
· If you receive a credit card in the mail that you did not request, call the
issuer to find out why it was sent to you. If it was requested by someone else
in your name, cancel it immediately and follow the steps outlined below.
· When creating a password for an ATM card, long distance account, credit card
or other form of credit, do not use common numbers such as your birth date or
the last four digits of your Social Security number. Avoid using names, such as
your mother's maiden name or your birthplace, that are likely to appear in
public records accessible to thieves.
COMPUTER AND INTERNET SECURITY:
Many consumers today use the Internet to shop, pay bills, and conduct
financial transactions. Follow these tips when shopping paying bills on-line.
· If you store financial records on your computer, keep a backup file on disk in
a secure place. Use passwords and install an electronic firewall to keep
burglars and Internet hackers from accessing your computer.
· Do not give your credit card number or other financial information over the
Internet unless you are certain you have a secure server connection.
· Save the transaction number or confirmation number provided to you by the
business, and make a note of the date/time of the transaction, and what you
· Request that the on-line companies you deal with restrict access and sharing
of your financial information.
· Remember that most legitimate businesses will not ask for your Social Security
or bank account numbers.
The above information is available from the Texas Attorney Generals Office -
more information can be viewed online at
22 January 2013