Preventing Identity Theft
Identity theft is an unfortunate part of life in California, but there are ways to stop identity thieves in their tracks.
The California State Legislature continues to pass new laws to make it more difficult to perpetrate the crime of ID theft and is finding new ways to assist victims. There are also federal laws aimed at reducing ID theft. The easiest way to reduce the risk of ID theft is to become more active in prevention. With some basic knowledge of your rights and common sense reminders, you can help prevent ID theft. Be Smart - take the first steps toward ID theft prevention.
Monitor your credit report.
Order a free copy of your credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com. There are other online services that offer free credit reports to consumers; however many of them require you to purchase credit monitoring services in order to get the free credit report. Also, these organizations cannot assist consumers in correcting any incorrect information on your credit report.
Consider adding a statement to your credit file that makes it more difficult to grant credit without calling you to confirm the application.
This may thwart identity thieves' attempts to access your credit history and purchase goods at various retail establishments that grant credit on- site. It will, however, prevent you from being granted immediate credit at most retail establishments without being called first. Call Equifax at (800) 525-6285, Experian at (888) EXPERIAN and TransUnion at (800) 680-7289.
Make it harder for ID thieves to get "identifying information" from your mail and mailbox.
Consider replacing your current mailbox with one that has a lock and never leave outgoing mail sitting in a non-secure mailbox. If you insist on using a mailbox without a lock, you might consider eliminating pre-approved offers of credit. You can opt-out of some preapproved credit offers by calling (888) 5-OPT-OUT.
Keep an eye out for missing mail.
Fraudsters look for monthly bank or credit card statements or other mail containing your financial information. Consider enrolling in online banking to reduce the likelihood of paper statements being stolen. Also, don’t mail bills from your own mailbox with the flag up.
Carry only the credit card you would use in an emergency and keep all other credit cards at home, in a secure place. Do not carry your Social Security card.
Should an identity thief steal your purse or wallet, it will be easier and faster for you to cancel a single card than several cards. This should minimize the thief's ability to make purchases using your credit cards.
Don’t share your secrets.
Don’t provide your Social Security number or account information to anyone who contacts you online or over the phone. Protect your PINs and passwords and do not share them with anyone. Use a combination of letters and numbers for your passwords and change them periodically. Do not reveal sensitive or personal information on social networking sites.
Use online banking to protect yourself.
Monitor your financial accounts regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for text or email alerts from your bank for certain types of transactions, such as online purchases or transactions of more than $500.
Protect your computer.
Make sure the virus protection software on your computer is active and up to date. When conducting business online, make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active. Also look for an “s” after the “http” to be sure the website is secure.
Protect your mobile device.
Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen. Before you donate, sell or trade your mobile device, be sure to wipe it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen. Use caution when downloading apps, as they may contain malware and avoid opening links and attachments – especially for senders you don’t know.
Shred or secure in a lockbox all documents with important identifying information on them.
This includes bank statements, unused checks and deposit slips, credit card statements, paystubs, insurance claim or payment forms, other financial documents and credit reports. Most identity thieves find the information they need to perpetrate crimes by going through people's trash.
Watch anyone who asks to "swipe" your credit or debit card
Devices known as "skimmers" are sometimes used by counterpersons to copy the identifying information off a magnetic strip of a credit or debit card and later added to a fake card with a blank magnetic strip.
On the backs of your credit cards, write "Always check ID" in black marker.
This should encourage retails sales clerks to ask for your ID any time that credit card is used. Though this is already standard practice at many retail establishments, it serves as a good reminder.
Do not have your driver's license or Social Security number printed on your checks.
Should your checkbook be stolen, a sales clerk might be convinced that showing a valid ID is not necessary when your driver's license or Social Security number is already printed on the check.
If You Become a Victim
- Immediately call all credit card issuers and let them know you've been a victim of identity theft.
- Contact the major credit reporting agencies and order your credit reports. This begins the process of verifying and correcting the information in your credit report.
- Contact your local police department.
- If you know through which credit grantor the identity thief secured credit in your name, request copies of all application documents the identity thief filed with that credit grantor.
- Document all correspondence with the police department, credit grantors and credit reporting agencies.
- When the thief who stole your identity is arrested, engage in regular contact with your local district attorney and ask for information about the case.
- Request your old cards cancelled, your old accounts closed, and new cards and accounts opened immediately.
- It would be wise to request a fraud alert at this time. Call Equifax at (800) 525-6285, Experian at (888) EXPERIAN and TransUnion at (800) 680- 7289.
- File a police report to document the identity theft.
- Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338).
- You can request that these documents be given directly to you and the police and added to your police report.
- Keep copies of your correspondence. If your case is not resolved to your satisfaction, contact the Federal Trade Commission, by filling out a complaint on their Web site: (www.ftc.gov (http://www.ftc.gov/)).
- Though district attorneys are busy, it is important for them to know that identity thefts are a concern to consumers.
How California Protects the Private Information of its Consumers
- Californians can initiate a criminal investigation if they know or suspect that they are the victim of identity theft, which may be prosecuted as a felony in California.
- Consumers have the right to place a security alert on their credit report if they have been a victim or suspect they are currently a victim of identity fraud. This alert provides special notification to credit grantors that special attention should be paid to the application of credit pending before them. It does not, however, prevent credit from being granted.
- Consumers can have their entire consumer credit file "frozen." This "freeze" prevents any new credit from being granted.
- You have the right to receive a copy of the documents submitted to a credit grantor by the suspected identity thief. Sometimes the identity thief is someone close to the victim and the victim can identify the thief's handwriting.
- Credit card customers must be notified if their information might be shared with marketers and given the opportunity to prohibit the sharing of their information.
- Supermarkets cannot ask for your Social Security number on a "club card" application.
- Financial institutions and other businesses can no longer use your Social Security number as an account number.
- You can have your name removed from the lists of telemarketers, excluding non-profits, political or religious organizations.
- Consumers can block information on their credit report that directly relates to an investigation of identity theft. A copy of an official police report must be provided to the credit reporting agencies.
- Businesses that legitimately have records with your identifying information on them must completely destroy or demonstrably alter all of these documents (so that the identifying information cannot be viewed) in the disposal process.
- Medical information cannot be used for the purpose of granting credit.