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Identity Theft

presentation by Carol Sikov Gross, Esquire, CELA*

I. What is Identity Theft?

Acquiring key pieces of someone’s identifying information to impersonate that person:
• Name
• Address
• Social Security Number
• Date of Birth
• Mother’s Maiden Name

Committing fraud with the information taken which causes financial harm to the person whose identity has been taken

II. How Does Identity Theft Happen?

Information is acquired by:

• Stealing employers’ records
• Rummaging in the trash – dumpster diving
• Posing as someone who may have legal right to the information
• Stealing credit or debit card numbers – skimming
• Stealing wallets/purses containing identification and credit cards
• Stealing mail
• Completing a change of address form for the mail
• Stealing personal information from your home or computer
• Scamming information by posing as a legitimate business person or government official
• E-mailing or calling with fake credit or debit card warnings
• Posing as a legitimate charity

Once information is obtained, the thief can:

• Go on a spending spree
• Take over the victim’s financial accounts
• Open new bank accounts or new credit card accounts
• Purchase cars, motorcycles, etc. by obtaining new loans
• Change the mailing address on credit card accounts
• Apply for loans, credit cards or Social Security benefits
• Rent an apartment
• Set up services for telephone or utilities
• Counterfeit checks or debit cards and drain bank account
• File for bankruptcy under victim’s name to avoid debts or eviction
• Give victim’s name to police during arrest

III. How Can You Tell If You Have Become a Victim?

  1. Check balances on financial accounts
  2. Check for unexplained charges or withdrawals
  3. Failure to receive bills or other mail
  4. Receipt of credit cards when you did not apply
  5. Denial of credit for no reason
  6. Receipt of calls from debts collectors or companies from which you didn’t buy goods or services

IV. How Can You Help Protect Yourself from Identity Theft?

  1. Carry credit cards separately from your wallet or purse
  2. Watch your credit card during each transaction and ask for its quick return
  3. Destroy carbons and save receipts to compare with billing statements
  4. Keep a records of all credit card numbers, expiration dates and the telephone number and address of each credit card company in a secure place
  5. Shred bills, receipts, pre-approved credit card offers, health insurance forms from Medicare or your insurance carrier, doctor’s statements and other forms with personal information
  6. Check credit reports from Equifax, TransUnion and Experian each year to ensure that the information is accurate
    Equifax: 800-685-1111
    TransUnion: 800-916-8800
    Experian: 888-397-3742
  7. Only provide your Social Security No. when absolutely necessary
  8. Never give out personal or account information over the telephone or Internet unless you initiated the contact.
  9. Update virus protection software regularly
  10. Don’t download files from strangers
  11. Use a firewall
  12. Use a secure browser to safeguard online transactions
  13. Avoid using an automatic log-in feature and always log off when done
  14. Strongly password protect any financial information stored on your laptop, if you need to store such information
  15. Delete any personal information stored on the computer before you get rid of it — “Wipe” it
  16. Check web site privacy policies

V. What Can You Do if You Think Your Identity has been Stolen?

  1. Contact all creditors, by telephone and in writing, to inform them of the problem
  2. Call law enforcement agencies — the nearest U.S. Postal Inspection Service office, the local police, the Social Security Administration’s Fraud Hotline and the Federal Trade Commission
  3. Call the fraud units of each of the 3 credit bureaus to report identity theft and have “Fraud Alert/Victim Impact” statement placed in your credit file asking that creditors call before opening new accounts
  4. Alert your banks to flag your accounts and contact you to report unusual activity.
  5. Change PIN numbers and passwords
  6. Call the Department of Motor Vehicles to see if another license has been issued in your name. If one has, get a new license number and fill out the DMV’s complaint form regarding the fraud
  7. Keep a record of all contacts and make copies of all documents

VI. Where Can You Report Identity Theft or other Scams or Frauds?

  1. Equifax Credit Bureau, Fraud 800-525-6285
  2. TransUnion Credit Bureau, Fraud 800-680-7289
  3. Experian Information Solutions, 888-397-3742
  4. Federal Trade Commission 877-IDTHEFT
  5. U.S. Postal Inspection Service Financial Crimes Task Force 800-846-4677
  6. Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline 800-269-0271
  7. Senior Action Coalition 800-846-4677
  8. PA Attorney General Consumer Protection Division 800-441-2555
  9. National Fraud Information Center 800-876-7060
  10. AARP 800-424-3410

*Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation as authorized by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania