According to the National Crime Prevention Council, a study released by Javelin Strategy & Research reported that in 2009 most identity thefts were taking place offline, not online–just the opposite of what many folks might think.  The study also found that 43% of all identity thefts are committed by someone the victim knows.

It’s in the newspaper every day & on the news every night.  People worry that someone will run up charges on their credit card or have fraudulent charges applied to their bank accounts.  There is reason to worry!!  All a thief needs is your Social Security number to commit identity theft.  The crime is relatively easy to commit, but investigating & prosecuting it is complex & time-consuming.

Here’s some information to help protect you:

What is identity theft?
Identity theft is the fraudulent use of your name & identifying data that is used for someone else’s financial gain.Thieves can use your identity to purchase merchandise & services, open bank accounts & obtain credit.  Identity theft victims are often left with ruined credit.

What information do identity thieves want?
Thieves want your full name, social security number & date of birth.Plus, they want bank account numbers & credit card numbers (along with expiration dates).

How do thieves obtain your personal information?

  • Thieves retrieve credit card receipts, bank statements, & bills from your wallet/purse & also from your garbage.
  • Thieves can steal bills, bank statements, credit offers from your mailbox.Some even complete change of address forms to divert your mail to another location.
  • Thieves send phony emails claiming to be legitimate businesses asking for your account information.This scam is called “phishing”.
  • Telemarketers will convince you to give them personal information over the telephone.
  • Savvy criminals can “shoulder surf” -look over your shoulder as you enter your PIN at an ATM.

What do thieves do with the information they obtain?

  • They use your identity to empty your bank accounts & charge items on your credit cards.
  • They open bank accounts, credit card & store accounts, or apply for loans using your personal information & credit history.
  • Thieves can print checks using your information to go on a spending spree.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Keep a list of ALL your account information (including credit card numbers & expiration dates & contact phone numbers for each).
  • Do NOT reply to email notices requesting personal information.Instead, call the company.
  • Do NOT give out your social security number for identity purposes & do not carry it in your wallet/purse.
  • Do NOT give your personal information or credit cards numbers over the phone unless YOU have initiated the call & have a trusted relationship with the company.
  • When purchasing online items, only give out your bank account information or credit card information after you have ensured the website is valid & secure.
  • Carefully review your bank statements & bills for accuracy.
  • Keep track of when bills typically arrive & contact creditors if the bills do not arrive on time.
  • Create complex passwords/PINs & when it’s time to change the password, change it completely. Do not use the same password for all logins and when changing the password, change it completely. Do not use a sequence that can be easily obtainable.  And do NOT carry these passwords in your wallet/purse.
  • Shred anything that has personal information on it & be sure to shred all “pre-approved” credit offers that you receive by mail.

What should you do if you think you are a victim of identity theft?

  • Contact your local law enforcement agency (retain a copy of any filed report).
  • Contact your bank, credit card companies, investment companies, etc.
  • Call the 3 major credit agency Fraud Hotlines:
    • Equifax (800) 525-6285
    • Experian (800) 397-3742
    • TransUnion (800) 680-7289