February 24, 2000Hijacked! 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
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
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
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
- 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
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.