Identity theft, or impersonation fraud, occurs when someone assumes your identity to perform a fraud or other criminal act. The sources of information about you are so numerous that it can be difficult to prevent the theft of your identity. These are a few ways identity thieves aquire your information:
• Stealing wallets, purses, or your mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards, and tax information.
• Stealing personal information you provide to an unsecured site on the Internet.
• Rummaging through your trash and business trash for personal data.
• Posing as someone who legitimately and legally needs information about you, such as employers or landlords.
• Buying personal information from "inside" sources.
Tips to Help You Avoid Identity Theft:
• Do not throw away ATM receipts, credit statements, credit cards, or bank statements without first shredding them.
• Never give out personal information online simply because someone asks for it.
• Never give your credit card number over the telephone unless you initiated the call.
• Reconcile your bank account monthly and notify your bank of discrepancies immediately.
• Keep a list of telephone numbers to call to report the loss or theft of your wallet, credit cards, etc.
• Report unauthorized financial transactions to your bank, credit card company, and the police as soon as you detect them.
• Review a copy of your credit report at least once each year. Notify the credit bureau in writing of any questionable entries and follow through until they are explained or removed.
• If your identity has been assumed, ask the credit bureau to print a statement to that effect in your credit report.
• If you know of anyone who receives mail from credit card companies or banks in the names of others, report it to local or federal law enforcement authorities.
If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
There are several steps you should immediately take if you feel your identity has been stolen or used without your permission. Most credit card companies will not hold you responsible for charges made by a thief, but you need to act quickly.
1. For any accounts that have been fraudulently opened or accessed, contact the security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions, and explain what happened. Close these accounts. Put passwords on any new accounts you open.
2. Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) and report that your identity has been stolen. Ask that a "fraud alert" be placed on your file and that no new credit be granted without your approval. Here are the numbers for reporting fraud:
* Equifax -- 1-800-525-6285
3. Contact your local police department or sheriff's office to file a report. Under Florida law, the report may be filed in the location in which the offense occurred, or the city or county in which you reside. When you file the report, provide as much documentation as possible, including copies of debt collection letters, credit reports, and your notarized ID Theft Affidavit.
* Experian -- 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
* Trans Union -- 1-800-680-7289
4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by calling the ID Theft Hotline: 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338).