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Identity Theft

7/21/2010 by WebSolutions

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that identity theft (also referred to as identity fraud) is now the number one complaint received from consumers. In fact, nationwide, there are hundreds of thousands of identity theft victims each year. The FTC also notes that despite our best protection efforts, skilled identity thieves use a variety of low and hi-tech methods to gain access to your personal information. Below are several methods identified by the FTC as common ways thieves can obtain and illegally use your personal information.

Identity thieves can get your information by:

  • Stealing your wallet containing your identification, credit and bank cards
  • Stealing your mail, including your bank and credit card statements and pre-approved credit offers
  • Completing a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location
  • Rummaging through your trash or the trash of a business for personal data
  • Fraudulently obtaining your credit report by posing as your landlord or employer
  • Obtaining your business or personnel records for your place of employment
  • Accessing your personal information from an internet transaction
  • Buying your personal information from an "inside" source such as a store employee

Once identity thieves get your personal information, they use it to:

  • Obtain new credit cards in your name
  • Change your credit card mailing addresses and then run-up charges before you realize there is a problem
  • Establish phone and wireless service in your name
  • File for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts incurred
  • Counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank accounts
  • Buy autos or merchandise by taking out loans in your name

The financial and emotional cost of Identity theft:

  • It's costly — on average, victims spend up to 175 hours and over $800 in out of pocket expenses (not including lost wages) to clear their names.
  • Victims experience frustration and anxiety because of the criminal act and the invasion of their privacy.
  • Victims feel a sense of guilt until their innocence is proven.
  • Those targeted feel an emotional need to both investigate the crime and catch the thieves .

To reduce your chances of being victimized by identity theft:

  • Never provide strangers with social security numbers, mother's maiden name or financial account numbers.
  • Guard your mail from theft, know when bills are supposed to arrive and check on them if they are late.
  • Secure credit cards, bank and telephone account passwords.
  • Replace cards showing your social security number with copies without it.
  • Carry only needed credit or identification cards.
  • Before discarding, shred anything containing information others could use as identification (e.g., charge receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, financial information of any type, etc.).
  • Add Identity Theft Expenses Coverage to your Peerless Insurance Homeowners policy (see Identity Fraud for specifics).

If you become a victim of identity theft:

  • Contact your creditors as soon as possible to notify them. Obtain and complete a copy of the FTC's standard Identity Theft Affidavit and provide it to your creditors. You can obtain a copy of the FTC affidavit by visiting: www.consumer.gov/idtheft or by calling the FTC Hotline toll-free at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
  • Call the following major credit-reporting bureau fraud lines and have fraud alerts placed on your accounts.
    Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
    Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
  • Report the theft to the police and, for advice about personal insurance, contact your independent insurance agent.

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