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Division of Banking

Identity Theft Frequently Asked Questions

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Q. What is identity theft?
A.

Identity theft or identity fraud is the acquisition and then the fraudulent use of someone's personal identifying information. Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America and has become a national crisis according to the Social Security Administration's Inspector General. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse estimates that there are between 500,000 to 700,000 identity theft victims per year.

Q. What are the effects of identity theft?
A.

By the time identity theft is discovered - on average 14 months after the crime - the thief has wrecked havoc on the victim's credit standing. The result for consumers is tarnished credit ratings, and therefore, credit impairment. Consumers then often experience difficulty in obtaining loans, getting a job or an apartment, and even writing checks.

Q. How does identity theft happen?
A.

Identity thieves steal personal information, such as Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, credit card numbers, ATM cards, telephone calling cards and other key pieces of individuals' identities. Thieves use this stolen information to impersonate their victims, spending as much money as they can in as short a time as possible before moving on to their next victim.Identity thieves use a variety of ways to gain access to this personal information including:

  • Stealing mail
  • Digging through garbage
  • Thieves pose as your employer, bank, or utility company and request information to "update their records"
  • Fraudulently obtain one's credit report by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legitimate need for - and a legal right to - the information
  • Unsecured Internet sites
  • Completing a "change of address form" at the post office
  • Pickpocket, etc...
  • Q. What are the different types of identity theft?
    A.

    Credit Card Fraud- If consumers know their billing cycles, check their credit card statements, check their credit report yearly, and dispose or file credit card information carefully, and carry only the necessary amount of credit cards, then they will minimize their risk to credit card identity theft.

    Mail Fraud - If consumers send and receive mail in a secure mailbox, then they minimize their risk. If an identity thief has stolen a person's mail, he or she should report it to their local postal inspector. Locate the nearest postal inspector by contacting the local post office or check the Postal Service Web site at http://ww.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.

    Financial Institution Fraud - If consumers check their monthly account statements and put the least amount of information on their checks, then they minimize their risk. If consumers believe that an identity thief has tampered with their bank accounts, checks, or ATM card, they should close accounts immediately. If their ATM card has been lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised, cancel the card immediately. When opening new accounts, request password-only access to minimize risk.

    Internet Fraud - If consumers shop with reputable companies that have secure servers (look for https://), watch out for extra charges, and keep a record of transactions, then they will enjoy the incredible convenience of on-line shopping and at the same time minimize their risk to Internet fraud.

    Telephone Fraud - If consumers apply this golden rule: "Never give any personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the call and are certain where and whom you are calling," then consumers will minimize their risk of giving out personal information to an identity thief.

    Q. How do I protect myself from identity theft?
    A.

    Prevention is the first step in battling identity theft. To minimize the risk of someone stealing one's identity, follow these guidelines:

    1. Carry only the cards (credit and ID) that are needed; file others in a safe place at home.
    2. Sign credit cards immediately and sign all receipts.
    3. Keep social security card and/or number in a secure place, not in a wallet or purse.
    4. Do not attach a pin number or social security number to any cards.
    5. Do not attach or write a pin number or social security number on anything to be discarded (e.g. a receipt).
    6. Never use birth date, mother's maiden name, or any other identifiers as pin numbers and/or passwords to access accounts.
    7. Shred any documents that contains a credit card number, social security number, or other personal identifying information before discarding.
    8. Alert card issuers when statements are not received.
    9. One should not give personal information or account numbers to anyone until they have confirmed the identity of the person requesting the information and verified that they need to provide the solicitors with the information.
    10. Check credit card and banks statements carefully, verifying that all transactions were initiated by the possessor of the accounts.
    11. Retain copies of receipts to check against billing statements.
    12. Check credit report for accuracy. The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to check their credit report at least once a year.
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    Q. How does one recover from identity theft?
    A.

    Do these four things are quickly as possible:

    1. Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit reporting agencies. Request that a "fraud alert" be placed in one's file, which will let creditors know that one's credit has been tampered with. This alert will warn lenders to be especially careful in authenticating identity of anyone claiming to be you. It will mean that one cannot open instant credit, for example, at a retail store. Request a "victim's statement" be placed in one's file, which requires creditors to call a consumer prior to the opening of any new accounts. Additionally, request a copy of your credit report for examination. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months upon request if you certify that your report is inaccurate due to fraud, you have been denied credit due to your credit score, you are on welfare, or you are unemployed and place to seek employment within 60 days. Otherwise, credit bureaus charge a small fee for a report.

      Credit Reporting Bureaus:

      Equifax
      To order report: 1-800-685-1111
      To report fraud: 1-800-525-6285

      Experian
      To order your report: 1-888-397-3742
      To report fraud: 1-888-397-3742

      TransUnion
      To order a report: 1-800-916-8800
      To report fraud: 1-800-680-7289

    2. Contact creditors from any accounts that have been tapered with or opened fraudulently. Have these accounts closed. If one opens a new account, request that a password be utilized. It is particularly important to follow up with written notification, since this is the requirement of the Fair Credit Billing Act.

      Consumers now have a standard form to report fraud to creditors with the ID Theft Affidavit at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/affidavit.pdf. Fill it out, photocopy it, and mail it 'Return Receipt Requested' to the three major credit bureaus, as well as each creditor.

    3. Contact the police
    4. and file a report in the community where the identity theft took place and obtain a copy of the report. The burden of proof rests solely on the victim, so insist on receiving a complaint or file number from the police, you will need this to show to creditors.

    5. Call the Identity Theft Toll-Free Hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338). This is the central point of contact within the federal government for reporting incidents of identity theft. Document all contacts with dates, names, and phone numbers for your records.

    Additional Resources:

    Government Resources

    Federal Trade Commission
    Phone: 1- 877-IDTHEFT
    Web site: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft

    United States Department of Justice
    Web site: http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html

    U.S. Postal Service
    Call the U.S. Post Office to obtain the phone number of the nearest Postal Inspector (800) 275-8777.
    Web site: http://www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect

    U.S. Secret Service
    Web site: http://www.treas.gov/usss

    U.S. Social Security Administration
    Report fraud: (800) 269-0271.
    Order your free Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate
    Statement: (800) 772-1213.
    Web site: http://www.ssa.gov

    Consumer Organizations

    CALPIRG
    11965 Venice Blvd., Suite 408, Los Angeles, CA 90066.
    Phone: (310) 397-3404 or (916) 448-4516.
    Web site: http://www.pirg.org/calpirg

    Identity Theft Prevention and Survival
    28202 Cabot Road, Suite 215, Laguna Niguel, 92677
    Contact: Mari J. Frank, Esq., Author, The Identity Theft Survival Kit
    Phone 800-725-0807 or 949-364-1511
    Web site: http://www.identitytheft.org

    Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
    1717 Kettner Ave., Ste. 105, San Diego, CA 2101
    Phone: (619) 298-3396
    Web site: http://www.privacyrights.org

    U.S. PIRG
    218 D St. S.E., Washington, DC 20001
    Phone: (202) 546-9707
    Web site: http://www.pirg.org

    Identity Theft Resource Center.
    Nonprofit specializing in identity theft and victim asst., 858-693-7935
    Web site: http://www.idtheftcenter.org

    VOIT (Victims of Identity Theft Support Group)
    Web site: http://www.pirg.org/calpirg

    Fraudulent use of checks

    If you are unable to write checks because of bad checks written in your name, the merchant will direct you to one of the check verification services below. If you are unable to open a checking account because of the activities of an impostor, contact Chexsystems. CheckRite (800) 766-2748
    Chexsystems (800) 428-9623
    CrossCheck (707) 586-0551
    Equifax (800) 437-5120
    National Processing Co. (800) 526-5380
    SCAN (800) 262-7771
    TeleCheck (800) 710-9898

    To remove your name from mail and phone lists

    Direct Marketing Association
    Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735.
    Telephone Preference Service, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735.
    Web site: http://www.the-dma.org

    For a copy of the Office of Banks and Real Estate's Identity Theft brochure click here.