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Identity Theft

It’s been called the fastest-growing crime in the country. You can become a victim long before you realize it, and if you are victimized, you might spend months or years repairing the damage.

This growing menace is IDENTITY THEFT. It happens when a criminal uses someone’s good name and personal information to obtain or use credit, raid bank accounts or commit other fraud. An estimated 500,000 cases of identity theft occur each year resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, mostly borne by banks and other businesses. Although consumers whose identities are stolen usually suffer little, if any, direct monetary loss, they often face a time-consuming, agonizing task of cleaning up their credit record and restoring their reputation. So be prepared and GUARD YOUR GOOD NAME!

How Identity Theft Happens

Identity thieves start by obtaining personal identifying information about their victim. This may include credit card or bank account numbers, Personal Identification Numbers (PINs), passwords, Social Security numbers, tax information or actual credit or debit cards or checks.

Some of these crooks trick people into divulging sensitive information through phone scams or over the Internet. Others steal bills or credit card offers from household mailboxes or obtain information from businesses, sometimes with the help of dishonest employees. These thieves have even been known to go through trash to find the information they need.

With the personal information they obtain identity thieves commit various types of fraud, including:

  • Opening credit card accounts or applying for loans in their victims’ names and running up huge debts.
  • Taking over or making charges on existing credit card accounts.
  • Accessing victims’ bank accounts, forging checks or passing counterfeit checks on the accounts.
  • Opening cell phone or utility accounts or renting residences using stolen identities.
  • Applying for jobs using others' identities.

When identity thieves strike, banks, credit card companies or merchants typically absorb all, or almost all, of the financial loss. For instance, by law, a consumer is only liable for the first $50 of unauthorized charges against a credit card account, and many lenders even waive that. Still, the consumer victim may discover that their credit record has been wrecked and their reputation damaged. Some victims have been turned down for loans and even jobs before they clear their name.

Identity theft victims may not learn for weeks or months that their identity has been stolen. Often, when identity thieves open or use credit card accounts in someone else’s name, they have the bills sent to an address other than the victim’s. The victim discovers the fraudulent credit charges when creditors or collectors start calling.

Tips for Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

You and your bank are partners in the battle against identity theft. Your bank is dedicated to keeping your financial information from falling into the wrong hands. But you also play a vital role in protecting your identity. While you can’t prevent identity theft with absolute certainty, you can minimize your risks by taking the following precautions:

Take care in handling your sensitive financial and personal information:

  • Don’t give out credit card or bank account numbers or your Social Security number over the phone unless you initiate the call and are certain you are dealing with a reputable firm.
  • Don’t carry more forms of identification or credit cards on you than you need.
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card with you.
  • Don’t write Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) on your ATM or credit cards and don’t carry PINs or passwords with you. Use a combination of letters and numerals for passwords and change them periodically. Avoid using your birth date or your mother’s maiden name because this information could be easily uncovered by identity thieves.
  • Keep your PINs secret; don’t share them with anyone.
  • Shred or tear up all credit card receipts, deposit slips, account statements and canceled checks before you throw them away.
  • Be cautious about sharing your Social Security number. Banks, employers and others sometimes must have this number for tax purposes. But you should weigh other requests carefully. Avoid using your Social Security number as your driver’s license number.
  • When doing business over the Internet, be sure you are dealing with a reputable firm. Make sure your browser's padlock or key icon is active. Use virus detection software.

Take care in handling your mail:

  • Don’t put bill payments in your home mailbox with the flag up. Take them to the post office or a postal collection box.
  • If you’re going to be out of town for a few days or more, have the post office hold your mail.
  • Sign your new credit cards immediately upon receipt and shred or tear up all credit card offers before discarding them.
  • Know your billing cycles and be alert for missing mail. If you believe mail is missing, contact the credit card company or other sender and the post office.

Review bank account and credit card statements as soon as you receive them.

  • Check to see if there are any unauthorized withdrawals or charges.
  • Order a copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting firms.
  • Review the report to be sure no credit card accounts have been opened or loans obtained in your name without your knowledge. The credit reporting companies and phone numbers are: Equifax, 800-685-1111; Experian, 888-397-3742; Trans Union, 800-916-8800. The reports cost up to $8.50 each.