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Identity Theft

Identity Theft

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Published by Joseph Ryan
How to prevent identity theft, and how to deal with it if it happens despite your best efforts
How to prevent identity theft, and how to deal with it if it happens despite your best efforts

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Published by: Joseph Ryan on Sep 19, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Identity TheftThe best protection against identity theft, without doubt, is identity theftprevention.A recent article in USA Today shows how identity theft can happen.An identity theft ring hacked into Marshall Department Store's main computer andstole thousands of credit card numbers. The ring members then traveled throughoutFlorida using these stolen credit card numbers to charge high-value merchandise atstores like WalMart.They then sold the merchandise to "fences," or even more brazenly, returned themerchandise to WalMart stores for a cash refund. A WalMart clerk got suspiciousand called store security, which contacted police. The ring members are now allserving long sentences in the slammer.But the more important point is, if you've ever shopped at Marshall's you couldhave found yourself with credit card bills for many thousands of dollars ofmerchandise you never purchased. What a gigantic headache! True, you wouldn't belegally responsible for those fraudulent purchases. Nevertheless, your creditrecord would be quite a mess for a long time.Clearly -- notwithstanding some recent legislation -- identity theft is the crimethat's probably most likely to happen to you. It's simply too easy for crooks toget hold of credit card numbers and social security numbers these days. In thisreport I'll briefly discuss how identity theft happens, what to do if it happensto you, and also mention a few important self-protection measures.Identity Theft DefinedIdentity theft doesn't usually mean somebody steals your identity and then goesoff to a faraway place and lives his/her life impersonating you and running upbills in your name. It could mean that, but that is extremely rare. Most commonly,it just means somebody runs up bills using your credit card or credit rating.Sometimes a lot of bills. There have even been cases of identity thieves takingout house mortgages under somebody else's name, and then flipping (re-selling) thehouse.Two Types of Identity ThievesThere are two main types of identity thieves, namely identity theft rings andindividual identity thieves.Identity theft rings resemble little Mafias with a boss and a group of underlingswho do the more risky tasks, such as setting up credit accounts and going intoretail stores to purchase merchandise using fake credit cards. (Many ringsactually manufacture valid-appearing credit cards, or hire specialists to do itfor them.)Typically identity theft rings use hit-and-run tactics, working in a fixedlocation for a few months then disappearing.The other type of identity thief is the lone individual who is trying to upgradehis/her standard of living by credit card fraud. Usually, this type of identitythief will not make quite as much of a train-wreck of your credit standing as theidentity theft ring. Even so you may find yourself spending many hours trying tofix it.
Needless to say, both types of identity thieves -- the rings and the individuals-- usually target high-income individuals. Anyone with an expensive car, home, orhigh-paying job is a more-likely target. Unfortunately, your social securitynumber can be just about as easy to get these days as your phone number. All acrook needs is an account with an information broker online and your name andaddress. Then, given your social security number and a little additionalinformation like your date of birth (which is also pretty easy to find online),the identity thief can set up all kinds of charge accounts in your name, arrangingto have the bills sent to a phony address so that it will take longer for you tocatch on to what's happening.But not all identity theft stems from online information brokers giving out socialsecurity numbers. In fact experts say only a very small fraction of it does. Mostoften, thieves directly steal credit card numbers, like the ring that I mentionedabove which operated in Florida. On a smaller scale, a thief working as a waiteror clerk may steal your credit card number or possibly your whole purse or wallet.In any case, it can escalate from a major nuisance to a major crisis if theidentity thief commits a crime while impersonating you, possibly by means of afake driver's license or other forged document. Should he/she be charged and thenfail to appear in court, you could find yourself under arrest and charged with thecrime or other offense.If It Happens To YouIf you receive bills for merchandise/services you didn't buy, or get a call from amerchant complaining about a bill you didn't pay for something you didn't order,you're very probably facing identity theft. Here's the process you should follow.Note: You might also wish to read the FTC's webpage(ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft) on this topic.First, get as much information as you can from the merchant, such as when thepurchase took place, type of credit used (credit line or credit card), accountnumber, monetary amount, where the bills were sent, and if a credit applicationwas filled out (if so, get a copy of it). Explain to the merchant that you've beena victim of identity theft always use that term, "identity theft" -- and request
 that he not report the bill to the credit bureau in your name.Second, contact one of the three major credit bureaus and tell them to put afraud alert on your credit reports. This prevents the identity thief from openingmore accounts in your name. You only need to contact one of the three creditbureaus to place the alert, since whichever one you notify will then alert theother two as well. The credit bureaus are: Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289Equifax: 1-800-525-6285Experian: 1-888-387-3742Have the credit bureau representative send you a copy of your credit report (thisshould be free). Then study it carefully and look for fraudulent charges. Closeall accounts you think have been tampered with and write a letter to thosemerchants explaining that you have been a victim of identity theft. (Note: don'tmail the letters yet. You should enclose a copy of your police report; seebelow.)Third, take your credit report to your local police department and file a formalpolice report. Always keep this report with you in the event you ever findyourself charged with a crime committed by the identity thief. Incidentally, your

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