Tips for Preventing Identity Theft

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Source: Houston Police Department
From Houston Police Dept.

Identity Theft is quickly becoming the crime of choice for criminals. It is imperative that you take the proper precautions to minimize the risk of becoming a victim. If you have already been victimized, however, HPD recommends that you visit the Federal Trade Commission’s web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft and print the publication titled “ID THEFT, When bad Things Happen to Your Good Name.” The publication contains information useful to begin to resolve the issues that are facing you.

Although you can not protect yourself entirely from ever becoming a victim of identity theft, there are steps you can take to minimize your chances of being targeted.

HOW IDENTITY THIEVES GET YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION

Stealing wallets and purses containing your identification and credit and bankcards.
Stealing mail to get new credit cards, bank or credit card statements, new checks, tax information, 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 looking for individual’s personal data in a practice known as “dumpster diving.”
Obtaining your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legitimate need for, and legal right to, the information.
Stealing personal information from your home or from businesses or institutions where you are a customer, patient, employee, etc.
Obtaining personal information that you share with others over the Internet.
Scamming you, either by U. S. Mail or e-mail, by posing as legitimate companies or government agencies you do business with. This usually happens after someone gets your information from businesses by stealing files out of offices where you are a customer, employee, patient or student. Sometimes an employee of these businesses is bribed or files are hacked into via the Internet.
Copying data from credit and debit cards as the card is being used for a legitimate transaction using a device called a skimmer.
Setting up look-alike web sites for legitimate businesses that you transact with and tricking you into sending personal information by sending e-mails warning that your accounts have been compromised or are about to expire and instructing you to click on a link.
Standing behind you as you enter your PIN number or credit card number in a practice known as shoulder surfing.
WHAT TO DO TO AVOID BECOMING A VICTIM

Manage your personal information wisely and avoid disclosure unless absolutely necessary. Remember that your Social Security number is the key to obtaining your credit report and other confidential information. Disclose only when absolutely necessary.
Keep personal information in a secure place at home. Shred all documents containing identifying data.
Limit the number of credit and debit cards in your purse or wallet. Never carry documents such as social security cards or birth certificates with you.
Never disclose personal information in response to a telephone call or an e-mail. Legitimate business that you transact with are never likely to ask for this information. If you are instructed to click on a link contained in an e-mail asking for personal information, visit the organization’s web site instead. Criminals will sometime create authentic looking false web sites for businesses you are already familiar with in order to obtain your information.
Shield your hand when entering your PIN number at bank ATMs or point of sale terminals. Always take receipts with you and shred them.
Never have check orders delivered to your home. Instead, pick them up at the bank yourself. In addition, never print your driver license or social security number on your checks or allow anyone to write this information on your checks.
Order a copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit reporting agencies every 3 months. Check each report carefully for signs of unusual activity. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each one of these agencies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. Call toll free 877-322-8228 or visit www.annualcreditreport.com.
Always place payments in a postal service box or arrange for them to be paid via the Internet. Never place outgoing payments in the mailbox in front of your home.
WARNING SIGNS THAT YOU MAY HAVE BECOME A VICTIM

Monthly credit card or bank statements stop arriving. Criminals will usually call your card issuer or financial institution and, pretending to be you, file a change of address request. The impostor then runs up charges on your account and, because the statements are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize that there is a problem.
You start getting bills from companies that you don’t recognize or a creditor calls to inform you that you have been approved for or denied credit that you have not applied for. Criminals will open up new accounts using your name, date of birth, and social security number. Since they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts are reported on your credit report. Sometimes your information is also used to establish utility service, phone or wireless service for various addresses.
You receive calls or letters from collection agencies, creditors, or companies claiming that you have written checks with insufficient funds. Criminals will open a bank account in your name or print bogus checks using your information. Sometimes they will drain your bank account after copying your bank’s routing and account numbers off one of your checks or by cloning your debit card.
There are unusual entries in you credit reports. Criminals will sometimes buy cars and even sign mortgages using your personal information. Persons – sometimes undocumented aliens – have been known to completely assume another’s identity and file for bankruptcy and even give it to the police when they are arrested.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE BECOME A VICTIM

Report the crime by calling the Houston Police Department at 713-884-3131 if the illegal activity occurred in the City of Houston. Filing a report is the first step in what may be a lengthy and frustrating process to repair your credit and reclaim your identity. Please note that any damage to your credit can only be corrected with your participation and cooperation. By completing the following steps, you will help resolve problems with creditors and merchants, remove inaccurate information from your files at the major credit reporting agencies, and help prevent future fraudulent use of your credit and identity. You should retain copies of all correspondence and documentation related to your case.

The Financial Crimes Unit of the Houston Police Department will review your report and, if assigned for follow-up, an investigator will contact you with additional information. Please note that due to the volume of reports received, jurisdictional issues such as where some of the illegal acts occurred, availability of solvability factors, and limitations on available resources, not all reports of this type of criminal activity are assigned to an investigator for follow-up. There are, however, several steps that you can take to minimize the impact that this crime will have on your personal affairs.

New information about your case or new fraudulent transactions should be reported under your original incident number to one of the following:

The Teleserve Unit (713-884-3131) if your original report was filed with our Teleserve Unit
The Financial Crimes Unit (713-308-2500) if a patrol officer filed your original report.
You may obtain a copy of your incident report by contacting the Records Division at 713-308-8585, by appearing in person at 1200 Travis, 23rd floor, or by requesting one by mail. Please call the Records Division in advance to confirm that your report is available and to receive a quote on the cost of your report. The cost of a report is 10 cents per page. If you would like the report mailed, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your request. Your report should arrive about two weeks from the time your request is processed. Please note that you may be provided with only the public release portion of the report which, in most cases, consists of only one page.

STEP I: Notify Credit Agencies.
Contact the following credit reporting companies:

Trans Union 1-800-680-7289 www.tuc.com
CSC Credit Services 1-800-272-9281 www.csccredit.com
Equifax 1-800-525-6285 www.equifax.com
Experian 1-888-397-3742 www.experian.com
Explain to each agency that you have been a victim of fraud and give them your HPD incident number.

Ask each agency to place a “victim of fraud” statement into your credit file.
Ask each agency to send you a copy of your credit report.
1. Upon receipt, examine each report carefully for unauthorized accounts and inquiries.
2. Ask each agency for the names and addresses of creditors reporting the unauthorized accounts and inquiries.
3. Trans Union, Equifax, and Experian will now temporarily remove disputed charges from your credit history when you provide them with a copy of your police report detailing the fraudulent charges. This allows you to obtain credit while your case is being investigated.
STEP II: Notify merchants and creditors.
Contact each merchant and creditor who accepted the fraudulent charge or opened the fraudulent account.

Advise the merchant or creditor that the account was opened or the charge was made without your permission.
Ask the merchant or creditor to explain their process for resolving fraudulent transactions.
The merchant or creditor should provide you with an affidavit to complete and return to them. Many merchants and creditors accept the “Affidavit of Fraud” form found online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. Please do not send affidavits to the Financial Crimes Unit. Your original police report is sufficient.
Maintain contact with all merchants and creditors until their investigations are completed. Ask merchants or creditors to instruct the credit-reporting agency to remove all information related to a fraudulent transaction from your file.
STEP III: Review your credit report.
Allow 30 days after completion of a merchant or creditor’s investigation for the credit-reporting agency to send you an amended credit report. If you have not received an amended report after 30 days, request one from each credit reporting agency that listed the fraudulent transaction or inquiry in your credit file. Upon receipt, ensure that the fraudulent transaction or inquiry has been removed from your report.

STEP IV: Contact the Federal Trade Commission.
The Federal Trade Commission compiles a nationwide database of victims of identity theft and of addresses where fraudulent credit cards and mail orders are sent. This allows law enforcement agencies around the country to contact you in case there are other charges or credit cards going to that same address. The FTC’s toll-free number is 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338). Their web site is www.consumer.gov/idtheft

IF YOU HAVE BEEN THE VICTIM OF CHECK FRAUD:

STEP I: Notify your bank.
Advise your financial institution that you have been a victim of fraud, and give them your HPD incident number.

STEP II: Send checks to your bank.
Return all forged and unauthorized checks to your bank or other financial institution, along with a notarized “Affidavit of Fraud” form provided by the bank or found online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft The Financial Crimes Unit does not need a copy of the affidavit.

STEP III: Notify the check-processing companies.
The listed check companies require copies of the police report; a notarized affidavit of forgery filed with your financial institution; and a copy of your driver license. Advise the agencies you are a victim of check fraud:

National Check Fraud Service 1-843-571-2143 www.ckfraud.org
Telecheck 1-800-710-9898 www.telecheck.com
Global Payments Check Service 1-866-860-9061 www.globalpay.com
Consumer Debit Resource 1-800-428-9623 www.consumerdebit.com
Consumer Debit Resource only receives reports from financial institutions. You may contact Consumer Debit Resource to obtain additional information if someone has opened a checking account in your name or used your social security number to open an account. You may also order your personal consumer report from their web site.

STEP IV: Inform merchants.
Contact the merchant if your bank notifies you regarding a forged check; or if the merchant who accepted your forged check contacts you:

Advise the merchant that you have been the victim of check fraud.
Provide the merchant with your HPD incident number.
Complete a notarized “Affidavit of Fraud” form provided by the merchant or found online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft and return the form to the merchant. The Financial Crimes Unit does not need a copy of the affidavit.
Request that each merchant file a police report with the local police department.
Other resources that you may find useful or informative include the following:

Postal Inspector 713-238-4400
Social Security Fraud Hotline 1-800-269-0271
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office estimates that the investigation and prosecution of many forgery, identity theft, and related cases can take up to one year to complete. Many cases have insufficient evidence to permit a complete investigation, and many others are resolved to the satisfaction of the victim without criminal prosecution. You may, therefore, wish to explore civil remedies by consulting with an attorney. Bear in mind, however, that criminal charges will not be pursued solely to gain advantage in a civil matter.

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Paper Shredding Prevents Identity Theft

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There are many reasons to shred your important documents but perhaps the most important is protection from identity theft. Identity theft has become increasingly common over the last 10 years and according to the US Federal Trade Commission 9,000,000 Americans have their identity stolen each year. Identity theft is the act of one person assuming the identity (by using a social security number, credit card number, or other personal data) of someone else typically for monetary gain. In 2006, a large survey on identity fraud was conducted by the Council of Better Business Bureaus and Javelin Strategy & Research. That report found that the average criminal accumulates $6383 in money and merchandise per identity theft and the national cost of identity theft is 56.6 billion per year. It also found that 90%  of stolen data was acquired through trash and other non-electronic methods, not through internet transactions and the age group most likely to have their identity stolen are  35-44.

 

There are many ways in which your identity can be stolen but the easiest is by the information most of us throw away. Many people don’t realize how often they leave their important information vulnerable but criminals are well aware and ready to take advantage rummaging through the trash for treasure. Credit card statements, bank statements, credit offers, utility bills, and other correspondence received by mail are prime targets for thieves.

 

Though most companies have become more careful about your information on correspondence, thieves have become better at fishing for information. A talented thief can take your statements and talk customer service representatives into releasing other information. For example, a woman may steal a mans information and then pretend to be his wife to obtain personal information. It’s also easy to  reroute other information and offers to a different address where they then begin to set up accounts in your name. Once one account is opened the rest is easy. That account is used to obtain credit cards, credit lines, and even bank loans and accounts.

 

In 1998, The US Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. This act made identity theft a Federal crime that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and fines up to $250,000. In addition, it allows victims of identity theft to seek monetary restitution and allows the Secret Service, FBI, and state and local police agencies to pursue the criminals.

 

The need for paper shredding in Houston is urgent. According to a report on KPRC Local 2 News (April 28, 2006), “identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States and Houston is the No. 1 spot for this crime in Texas”.  In 2005 and 2006 Houston Police Department’s Financial Crimes unit  had more than 32,000 cases open for investigation. If you are throwing any piece of mail away with personal information…you need to shred it! Simply tearing papers is not enough. Criminals are patient and will spend the time to reconstruct these pieces from your trash like jackpot puzzle. Using a shredder will make it impossible for criminals to use correspondence to steal your identity.

 

Personal shredders are inexpensive but can give you security that is priceless. If you have a small business or a large amount of documents to shred you may want to consider using a shredding service. These companies have locations you can take your document to to be shredded and will also shred on site for an additional charge. Most also recylcle the paper for the benefit of the environment.