Identity Theft

The Crime

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, makes it a federal crime when someone:"...knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law."Under the Act, a name or Social Security Number is considered a "means of identification," so is a credit card number, cellular telephone electronic serial number, or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual.

The Penalty

In most instances, a conviction for identity theft carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment, a fine, and forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the crime.

The Criminal Those who commit identity theft usually fall into 3 categories: 1.  Someone who knows the victim. 2.  Someone who is unsophisticated. 3.  A professional identity thief who works by himself or with an organized group.


Unlike your fingerprints, which are unique to you and cannot be given to someone else to use, your personal data CAN be used by others.Identity theft has been around as long as people have made monetary and credit transactions without having to be present or whow photo I.D.  However, it has become more prevalent through the use of the Internet.Considered a "dual crime," identity theft is a crime against the individual whose identity has been stolen and the financial institution or credit company.Schemes to commit identity theft or fraud also may involve violations of other statutes, such as:

     •     Credit Card Fraud     •     Computer Fraud     •     Mail Fraud     •     Wire Fraud     •     Financial Institution Fraud     •     Social Security Fraud

Pretexting - How they GET your information

Even though you think you have secured your personal information, identity thieves have ways of stealing your data for personal gain, called pretexting by:

Stealing wallets and purses with identification on paystubs, Palm Pilots, health-insurance cards, bank and credit cards.

Stealing mail including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards, and tax information.

Diverting mail by completing a "change of address form."

Dumpster diving - rummaging through personal or business trash.

Shoulder surfing - looking over your shoulder while you use the ATM or payphone to get your PIN.

Obtaining credit reports fraudulently by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legitimate need for and legal right to the information.

Acquiring records (business or personal) at work.

Searching homes.

Using the Internet.

Buying personal information from "inside" sources.  (From employees with access to credit or service information)

Posing as a telemarketer taking a survey.

Note:  Some forms of identification are a matter of public record that can be obtained if you have purchased or sold a home, paid taxes, filed for bankruptcy, or any lifestyle change including marriage, births, or divorce.  Obtaining this information is not illegal.

10 Ways ID Thieves USE your Information

1.  They call your credit card issuer pretending to be you, and change the mailing address on your credit card account, then run up charges.  Because your bills are being sent to a new address, you may not know right away.

2.  They open a new credit card account using your name, date of birth, and Social Security Number.  Then they don't pay the bills and the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.

3.  They establish phone or wireless service in your name or make unauthorized calls that are billed to you.

4.  They open a utility account under your name.

5.  They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.

6.  They file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred under your name, or to avoid eviction.

7.  They counterfeit checks or use debit cards and drain your bank account.

8.  They buy cars or homes by taking out loans in your name.

9.  They use your Social Security Number, birth certificate, or use another form of I.D. to get a job or a driver's license.

10. They create a criminal record under your name.  (In rare instances.)

Minimize your Risk: Adopt a "need to know" approach about giving out your personal information to others.  Before you reveal any information, ask how it will be used, whether it will be shared with others, and ask if you have a choice about the use or confidentiality of your information.

Never give out credit card numbers or 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.

Pay attention to billing cycles.  Follow up with creditors if bills don't arrive on time.  A missing credit card bill could mean an identify thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address.  Report discrepancies immediately.

Only carry ID and credit cards or bank cards that you will be using.

Keep items with personal information in a safe place.  Be cautious of roommates, employes, and service technicians.

Know who has access to your personal information at work and that records are in a secure location.

Shred any of the following that you are discarding:     Charge receipts     Copies of credit applications     Insurance forms     Physician statements     Bank checks and statements     Expired charge cards     Credit offers you get in the mail     Put passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts.  Use a combination of numbers and letters instead of information that could be easily discovered by thieves.

Never use:

     Your mother's maiden name

     Your middle name, your children's names, or a nickname     Your birthdate, your children's birthdates, or an anniversary     The last four digits of your SSN or phone or house number     A series of consecutive numbers     Your pet's name

Protect your Mail  Install a locked mailbox.  Never leave bill payments in the mailbox for pickup.

Mail bills and sensitive items at the post office rather than neighborhood drop boxes.

Never write account numbers on a postcard or the outside of an envelope.

Promptly remove incoming mail from your mailbox.

Request a vacation hold from the U.S. Postal Service (1-800-275-8777) or when planning to be away.

The Internet Install security software (firewall protection) on your computer.

Never respond to "spam" - unsolicited e-mail offers that promise some benefit after you complete a questionnaire.

Report suspicious e-mails and Internet scams to the local law enforcement agency.

"Free" Offers

Never sign up for "free" offers.  Junk mail and telemarketing calls obtain too much of your personal information.

Be leery of:   -   warranty/product registration cards   -   joining/donating money to organizations   -   subscribing to magazines or clubs   -   listing your name and number in the phone book   -   sweepstakes contests.

Your SSN (Social Security Number)

Your employer and financial institution need your SSN for wage and tax reporting.  Other private businesses may ask you for your SSN to do a credit check for a home or car loan.  Sometimes, however, others simply want your SSN for general record keeping which you have the right to refuse.  Ask the following questions to help decide whether or not to provide your SSN:

   -   Why do you need my SSN?   -   How will my SSN be used?   -   What law requires me to give you my SSN?   -   What will happen if I don't give you my SSN?

Only give your SSN when absolutely necessary.  Ask to use other types of ID when possible.

Never carry your SSN card with you.  Store it in a secure place.

Order a copy of your "Earnings & Benefits" Statement to see if anyone has used your SSN to earn an income.  (800) 772-1213.

Should I get a new SSN?A new SSN may not resolve your problems if you have been a victim.  It may actually create new ones.  Credit bureaus may combine former credit records or the absence of any credit history may make it more difficult to even get credit.  There is no guarantee that a new SSN wouldn't be misused by an identity thief.

Credit Cards

Keep a record of your account numbers, expiration dates, phone numbers, and addresses of each company in a safe place.

Never lend your card(s) to anyone. Do not leave cards or receipts lying around.

Watch your credit cards during transactions.  Get it back as quickly as possible.

Void incorrect receipts.

Never sign a blank receipt.  When you sign a receipt, draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.

Destroy carbons.

Compare receipts with billing statements.

Open bills promptly.  Reconcile accounts monthly.

Report questionable charges promptly in writing to the card issuer.

Notify card companies in advance of a change in address.

Cancel unused credit card accounts.

Contact creditors about accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently including:   -   credit card companies   -   phone companies   -   other utility companies   -   banks and other lenders

If you are a victim of identity theft, alert telephone (and cell), electrical, gas, and water utilities that someone may try to set up an account using your information.

If You Are A Victim

   1.  Call each credit card company.  Ask to speak with a security or fraud representative.

    2.  Follow up with a letter.

    3.  Complete a "Fraud Affidavit" form.

    4.  Close out all of the accounts right away.  Have it processed as "account closed at consumer's request" to keep your previous good credit ratings.

    5.  Use new PINs and passwords for new accounts.

    6.  Monitor mail and bills for evidence.

Banking To help prevent identity theft: Sign credit/bank cards when they arrive and carry them separately from your wallet.   Never have your SSN printed on your checks.  Do not let merchants handwrite your SSN on your checks.  Pick up new checks at the bank instead of having them mailed.  Store cancelled checks in a safe place.

If You Are A Victim:

    1.  Cancel the account.

    2.  Set up new accounts.  Use new passwords.

    3.  Stop payment on unquthorized checks.

    4.  Contact check verification companies that handle your checks.   

              (800) 428-9623     Chexsystems  

              (800) 843-0760     CrossCheck    

              (800) 437-5120     Equifax for credit report call 877-322-8228    

ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) Shield your hand when using an ATM.Memorize your PIN (Personal Identification Number).  Never carry your PIN in your wallet or purse.  Never write it on your ATM card or on the outside of a deposit slip or envelope.Always take ATM receipts with you.Monitor statements.  Reconcile ATM receipts with bank statements as soon as possible.

If You Are A Victim:

1.  If your ATM card has been misused, report it immediately.

2.  If it isn't reported within 2 business days after discovery, you could lose up to $500 in unauthorized withdrawals.

3.  You risk unlimited loss if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer or withdrawal within 60 days after your bank statement is mailed to you.  You could lose all the money in your bank account and the unused portion of your line of credit established for overdrafts.

4.  Follow-up all calls with a letter.

5.  Order a new card with a new account.

6.  Set up a new password or PIN.

DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles)The personal information used to obtain a driver's license is on file at your state's DMV.  Many DMVs distribute your information for law enforcement, driver safety, or insurance underwriting purposes, and direct marketing.  Contact your state's DMV to find out your options.

If You Are A Victim:

1.  Contact your state's DMV to see if another license has been issued in your name.

2.  Inform them that your information has been used fraudulently.

3.  Put a fraud alert in your DMV file.

4.  Follow up every few months. is the federal government's one-stop resource for identity theft victims.  The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.

You may contact the Central Source by visiting or by phone at 877-FAC-TACT.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) was signed into law in December 2003.  The FACT Act, a revision of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, allows consumers to get one free comprehensive disclosure off all the information in their credit file from each of the three national credit reporting companies once every 12 months through a Central Source.

1.  Tell them you are a victim of identity theft.

2.  Ask them to place a "Fraud Alert" in your file.

3.  Have them put a "Victim's Statement" in your file asking creditors to call you before opening new accounts or changing existing accounts.

4.  Order a copy of your credit report.  (Free - if you are a victim and request it in writing, otherwise, the cost can be $8.50 per copy.)

5.  Review the reports carefully for additional fraudulent accounts or activity.

6.  Have the credit bureaus contact anyone who has requested your credit report in the last 6 months (2 years for employers) and notify them of your situation.

7.  In 3 months, order new copies to verify corrections, changes, and to make sure the fraudulent activity has stopped.

DO: Let all parties know that you (as well as creditors and financial institutions) are the victim(s).  Indicate that you are willing to cooperate and have contacted all of the necessary agencies.

Keep an extensive log of who you reported the crime to, what their title was, their direct phone line or extension, and the course of action.

Ask for written confirmation of discussions.

Send all correspondence "return receipt requested" mail to create a papertrail.

Keep track of all expenses accrued while trying to collect and correct your record including phone calls, postage, mileage, time away from work, legal fees, notarization fees, court fees, assistance fees (including babysitters, accountants, attorney fees), and medical fees.

Attend all court hearings.  Take extensive notes of the participants, content, and outcome.

DO NOT: Pay any bill (or portion) from fraudulent activity.Cover any checks with your own money that you did not write or that were cashed fraudulently.

File for bankruptcy.

Allow yourself to be coerced by any credit company, financial institution, or collection agency into believing that you will be held responsible.

Notifying Law Enforcement File a report with your local police department and the location where the identity theft took place.

1.  Give law enforcement as much evidence as possible.

2.  Provide a list of the fraudulent accounts.  Make sure they are included in the report.

3.  Get a copy (or a summary) of the police report in case the bank, credit card companies, or others need proof of the crime.  Even if the identity thief is not caught, having a copy of the police report can help you when dealing with creditors.  If you are not allowed a copy of your report, get a letter stating so.

4.  Keep track of your case number(s) which will change as your case moves through the judicial system.  Note which numbers go with each jurisdiction.

5.  Provide creditors of fraudulent accounts a copy of the report.

6.  Be persistent.  It is a federal law and a violation of many state's laws to assume someone's identity for fraudulent purposes.  Departments may not normally file reports on this type of crime.

7.  File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  They do not handle criminal cases, but can provide information and referrals to help resolve problems resulting from this crime.

Prevention One way to find out if you have been a victim of identity theft is to order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.  It will contain information about:  -  where you work.  -  where you live.  -  the credit accounts that have been opened in your name.  -  how you pay your bills.  -  whether you have been sued, arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy.Check the reports for:  -  misspellings of your name.  -  an incorrect address.  -  discrepancies.  -  activities that you have not authorized.  -  accounts that you did not open.  -  inquiries you did not authorize.Note:  When you apply for credit, that company will obtain a copy of your credit report.  See if someone has requested a copy of your report that you had not authorized.

Should I Buy a Registration Service?

You may want to consider buying a registration service that notifies the issuers of your credit and ATM accounts if your card is lost or stolen.  This service allows you to make only one phone call to report all card losses rather than calling individual issuers. However, it will not stop identity theft from happening to you.  It simply makes it easier to report and hopefully rectify your accounts.

For More Information 

Federal Trade Commission

Toll-Free Hotline:

     1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)

Or Write:

Identity Theft Clearinghouse
 Federal Trade Commission
 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
 Washington, DC  20580


Protect your Child's Identity

Unlike your fingerprints, which are unique to you and cannot be given to someone else to use, your personal data CAN be used by others.

Identity theft has been areound for centuries.  However, it has become more prevalent through the use of the Internet.  The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has recently discovered 20,000 cases of child identity theft.

The Youngest Victims

Children and infants are the latest victims of identity theft.  They make easy targets because their stolen identification can go undetected for years.

Help prevent child identity theft by following precautions concerning birth certificates, Social Security numbers (SSN), passports, and savings accounts.

  -  Open a savings account in your child's name.  This is a great way to establish the child's identity.

  -  Obtain a passport for your child.  Once a passport has been issued, it is difficult to get another.

  -  Order a credit check on your child if you think he or she is a victim of identity theft.  The report will allow you to see if anyone has used your child's SSN.  It will also help to establish a credit report for your child.

The Crime

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, created in 1998, makes it a federal crime when someone:

"...knowingly transfers ur uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law."

The Criminal

Those who are trying to achieve a different identity, (such as illegal aliens or criminals), may falsely obtain a child's birth certificate and/or Social Security number in order to live a life undetected.

Others who use a child or infant's identification may be family members or acquaintances who have already tarnished their own identity.

Schemes to commit identity theft also may involve violations of statutes, such as:

  • Credit card fraud
  • Computer fraud
  • Mail fraud
  • Wire fraud
  • Financial institution fraud
  • Social Security fraud

Social Security Number (SSN)

At an early age, all American citizens are issued a Social Security number.  No Social Security numbers are duplicated.  This number is used to track the individual's income for their lifetime.

A SSN is used to:

  • register medical files
  • enroll in school
  • open a bank account
  • obtain a passport
  • apply for credit
  • register employment
  • join the military
  • record tax information

An identity thief may claim their own Social Security card is "lost" in order to obtain a replacement, using someone else's name and assuming their victim's identification.

If someone asks for a SSN for general record-keeping, you have the right to refuse.  Ask these questions to help decide whether or not to provide your child's SSN:

  • Why do you need the SSN?
  • How will the SSN be used?
  • What law requires me to give you the SSN?
  • What will happen if I don't give you the SSN?

Keep in mind that businesses may turn you down for a service of benefit if you don't provide a SSN.

  -  Only give your child's SSN when absolutely necessary for medical records at the doctor's office or for enrollment in daycare or school.  Ask to use other types of ID when possible.

  -  Never carry your child's SSN card with you.  Store it in a secure place.

If your child's SSN has been used by someone else, contact the Social Security Administration:  (800) 269-0271.


If you suspect your child's identification has been stolen, order a credit check on your child's SSN to see if anyone has used it.  It will cost less than $15 per agency.


Free Annual Report

To know if someone has been using your child's identification, check the reports for:

  • misspellings of your child's name.
  • an incorrect address.
  • discrepancies.
  • activities that you have not authorized.
  • accounts that you did not open.
  • inquiries you did not authorize.

Note:  When you apply for credit, that company will obtain a copy of your credit report.  See if someone has requested a copy of your report that you had not authorized.

If you think your child's identity has been stolen:

Order a copy of your child's "Earnings & Benefits" Statement to see if anyone has used their SSN to earn an income.  (800) 772-1213

If your child has been a victim, report it to your local law enforcement department and to the Federal Trade Commission.