Identity Theft: It CAN Happen to You

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1 Aging Well: Healthier, Happier and Less Hassled An Educational Series for Seniors and their Caregivers Identity Theft: It CAN Happen to You How would you feel if you were stopped for a traffic violation and suddenly found yourself being handcuffed and taken to jail for a crime you never committed? Or if you got a nasty call from a collection agency for a car loan you never had? Or if your application for a home mortgage was turned down because of information in your credit report about overdue bills on accounts you never opened? These are situations you could face as a victim of identity theft. Identity theft involves stealing another s personal information and using it fraudulently to establish or use existing credit. Identity thieves can take out a loan in your name, make a major purchase and charge that purchase to you, access your bank accounts or file fraudulent tax returns. These thieves only need a few pieces of your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, address, date of birth and mother s maiden name to begin opening accounts in your name. Perpetrators obtain this information in several ways: Stealing wallets and purses that contain personal information or credit cards. Stealing your mail. Looking through your trash for personal data such as discarded bills or credit card applications. Removing outgoing mail with personal checks from your mailbox. Completing a change of address form to divert your mail to another location.

2 Once these perpetrators obtain your information they use it to: Establish a new ID. Pretend to be you. Establish phone or wireless service in your name. Open new credit card accounts using your personal information. Open bank accounts and write bad checks. File for bankruptcy under your name to avoid eviction or payment of new debt incurred under your name. Counterfeit checks or debit cards and drain your bank account. Buy large expensive items by taking out loans in your name. Give your name to the police during an arrest then don t show up for a court date so an arrest warrant is issued in your name. Your personal information is a gold mine for ID thieves: ATM Card: With the card and pin number, the thief can withdraw money from the account or use it to make purchases. Bank Account Information: With your bank account and routing numbers, someone may be able to create fake checks in your name, pose as a legitimate merchant or withdraw money from your account for a purchase you did not make. Bills: Your bills contain all sorts of information your name, address, telephone number, bank account number, credit and debit card numbers and even your Social Security number. This information can be used to take over your accounts or to open new accounts in your name. Calling Card: With your calling card number and PIN, crooks can make long distance calls anywhere on your dime. Checks: Store clerks can t tell that a check is forged, so it s easy to use stolen checks to make purchases. Most banks won t cash checks for people unless they are customers, but thieves can use check cashing outlets. Credit and Debit Cards: Many stores don t ask for identification or compare the signature on the back of your card with your receipt. That makes it relatively easy for thieves to use them to make purchases in stores, by mail, on internet or over the phone. All the thief needs is your name and account number. The thief can arrange for the goods to be delivered to a different address. If fraudulent merchants have your credit or debit card account numbers, they can charge or debit you for purchases you never agreed to make. Credit Report: Your credit report lists many of the credit accounts. It contains your Social Security number, your address, where you bank and where you work. If this information falls into the wrong

3 hands, it can be used to take over your accounts, open new accounts in your name and impersonate you for many other purposes. Name and Address: You name and address by themselves aren t very useful to ID thieves, but they may be the foundation for fraud when combined with other information that may be available from public records and other sources. Passwords: The passwords you use to go on line and for various online accounts enable thieves to use your accounts to send messages and computer viruses in your name, pose as you to buy or sell things and gain access to online banking accounts and other sensitive information. Personal Records: Records about you at your work contain your name, address, Social Security number and bank account information if your pay is directly deposited. They may also have information about family members. This information can be used to impersonate you for many fraudulent purposes. Pre-approved Credit Card Offers: Crooks can apply for new credit card accounts using preauthorized offers of credit originally sent to you. They can change the address so the cards will come to them. Although identity theft cannot be stopped totally, each of us can take preventative steps to keep it from happening to us. These steps include: Do NOT give personal information such as your Social Security number or account number over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet. Cut up or shred old credit cards and credit card receipts as well as old checks, deposit slips and other items that contain your account numbers. For tax purposes you should keep check stubs and tax information for seven years. Do NOT give your Social Security number just because a business asks for it. Find out: -Why does the business need it? -How will it be used? -Does the law require you to give the number, and what happens if you don t? Don t put your Social Security number on your checks or your driver s license. Place passwords on your credit cards, bank account (s) and phone accounts. Protect your ATM personal identification number (PIN). Do NOT make it your street address or your birth date. Make it difficult for anyone to figure out.

4 Memorize your passwords and PIN numbers don t write them down. Carry only a few credit cards and a minimum amount of identification information with you. Pay strict attention to your billing cycles and check your statements carefully. If this is difficult for you to do, ask a relative or neighbor you trust to help with this task. Order copies of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once or twice a year to be sure they are accurate. Do NOT sign up for or use Web sites that require you to fill out personal information forms. NEVER provide your home address or Social Security number to anyone when you make a credit card purchase in person. Use ATMs only in well-lit, busy, accessible areas, especially at night. Cover the screen so others may not see your PIN. Don t give out personal information over the phone. Guard your mail and trash. Invest in a shredder. Never leave receipts behind. Keep your eye on the cashier. Stay focused during transactions. Only purchase from secured Internet sites. Turn off your computer when not in use. Use common sense and be suspicious when things don t seem right. Store your personal information in a safe place in your home. This would include a list of all your credit cards and account numbers, along with customer service phone numbers. If you are a victim or suspect you are a victim of identity theft, there are three things that you MUST do: 1. Contact the fraud department of each of the three major credit bureaus. Report your identity theft and request that a fraud alert be placed in your file. Also request a copy of your credit report. Note that a fee will be charged for these reports if the credit bureaus are contacted directly. For FREE copies of your credit reports, go on the Internet to The three credit bureaus are: TransUnion LLC Consumer Disclosure Center P.O. Box 1000 Chester, PA Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box Atlanta GA

5 Experian P.O. Box 2104 Allen, TX Contact the security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions. Follow up with a certified letter and return mail receipt. Close all accounts that have been tampered with. 3. File a report with your local police or the police in the area where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report. Although the Federal Trade Commission does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, you may want to file a complaint with it by contacting its Identity Theft Hotline ( ). The commission can provide information to help victims resolve problems. Be aware that as a victim of identity theft, you need to be patient, savvy and assertive. Keep accurate records of all phone conversations and written reports you make regarding the theft. Be alert to what is happening in the world of identity theft and protect yourself as carefully as you can so you do not fall victim to this crime. Material for this news article was obtained from Louisiana Attorney General s Office, Consumer Protection Section: Identity Theft by M. Kate Clark, Ed.D., West Virginia University Extension Service; and Jeanette Tucker, Ph.D., Family Consumer Science Specialist, LSU AgCenter Made available by Beth Gambel Family and Consumer Science Educator LSU AgCenter, South Central/Crescent Region Visit our We Site: Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, William B. Richardson, Chancellor Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, David Boethel, Vice Chancellor and Director Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, Paul Coreil, Vice Chancellor and Director Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. The Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

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