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SafetyAlerts
February 24, 2000

Hijacked!  The Latest Crime Wave Could Steal the Most Valuable Thing of All - Your Identity

Washington, DC (SafetyAlerts) - We lock our doors, put alarms and tracking devices on our cars and buy travelers checks for vacations.  We are very careful to protect the things we value in life.  The latest fad in crime could steal the most valuable thing of all - your very identity.

Identity theft occurs when con artists hijack a consumer's personal identifying information -- name, address, credit card or Social Security number -- and use the data to open new charge accounts, order merchandise, or borrow money.

Consumers targeted by identity thieves usually do not know that they have been victims until the hijackers fail to pay the bills or repay the loans, and collection agencies begin dunning the consumers for payment of accounts they didn't even know they had.

"Someone used my Social Security number to get credit in my name," One victim told the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) "This has caused a lot of problems. I have been turned down for jobs, credit, and refinancing offers. This is stressful and embarrassing. I want to open my own business, but it may be impossible with this unresolved problem hanging over my head.

"When someone hijacks a consumer's identity, it can be a nightmare," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But there are some precautions consumers can take to help reduce the risk of identity theft. And when identity theft does occur, there are some actions consumers can take to mitigate the damage. We hope the initiatives we are announcing today will help give consumers the tools they need to help combat identity theft."

While you probably can't prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft:

  • Before you reveal any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others. Ask if you have a choice about the use of your information: can you choose to have it kept confidential?

  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.

  • Guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered.

  • Put passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

  • Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry to what you'll actually need.

  • Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother's maiden name, financial account numbers and other identifying information. Legitimate organizations with whom you do business have the information they need and will not ask you for it.

  • Keep items with personal information in a safe place. To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks and statements that you are discarding, expired charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail.

  • Be cautious about where you leave personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.

  • Find out who has access to your personal information at work and verify that the records are kept in a secure location.

  • Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.

  • Don't carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.

  • Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. Make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities you've authorized. The law allows credit bureaus to charge you up to $8.50 for a copy of your credit report.

If you discover that your identity has been stolen, the agency advises the following steps:

  • Call the fraud departments of all three credit bureaus. Ask them to put a "fraud alert" on your file (this tells creditors to call you before they open any more accounts in your name). Also, ask for a copy of your credit report, and ask the credit bureau to remove any fraudulent or incorrect information.
  • Contact the credit grantors involved - e.g., the bank or credit card issuers who opened the fraudulent account or permitted access to your existing account. Immediately close all affected accounts.
  • Contact your local police, and ask to file a report. Even if the police can't catch the identity thief, having a police report can help you in clearing up your credit records later on.

The FTC has launched a three-part initiative to help consumers combat identity theft. The Commission's actions follow Congress' mandate that the FTC be the nation's clearinghouse for ID theft information including consumer education and ID theft complaint data.

The FTC has installed a toll-free number, 1-877-IDTHEFT ( 877-438-4338) where consumers who have been victims of identity theft can report the crime and get advice from telephone counselors trained to provide assistance to ID theft victims.

The agency also has developed an online consumer complaint form located at www.consumer.gov/idtheft ID theft victims can enter their complaint data directly into the FTC's secure database from that site. The site also provides links to numerous consumer education materials, as well as state laws governing ID theft, articles, reports and testimony.

The third element of the FTC's ID theft program is a strong message to consumers on how to protect themselves against this pernicious form of fraud, and, if already victimized, how to limit the damage to their credit history and other critical information.  The FTC announced today the release of a 21-page booklet that addresses identity theft.

This publication, which is available through the www.consumer.gov/idtheft site covers a wide range of topics, including how identity theft occurs, how consumers can protect their personal information and minimize their risk, what steps consumers should take upon finding out they are a victim, and how they can correct credit-related and other problems that may result from identity theft. It also describes federal and state resources available to consumers who have particular problems as a result of identity theft.

The Commission intends to share its efforts with other agencies, consumer advocates, and private sector entities at the Department of Treasury's upcoming National Summit on Identity Theft, to be held in Washington on March 15 and 16. This event will focus on establishing public/private partnerships to help minimize the incidence of identity theft, track down and catch identity thieves, and help consumers who have already been victimized.

 
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The information contained herein has been obtained from sources that the Company believes to be reliable, however, the Company has not independently verified or confirmed the information and the recipient acknowledges that no representations or warranties are being made in connection with the use of the information.