Identity theft

Do you know who you are? Does your Credit company?

by Steve Stone


Knowing yourself is not hard.  What is hard is explaining that you are who you say, and someone else pretended to be you and stole your identity.  It is not uncommon to find your name on lists you never took part in, and occasionally find a charge on your credit card bill that is not yours.  Things like that happen quite a bit.  Recently a gas station in Wake Forest was the playground for credit card hijackers.  They took several credit card numbers and expiration dates and charged them hundreds of dollars each.  


But this is not an everyday occurrence.  Millions of transactions happen securely and correctly for every illicit transaction.  The solution to this type of problem is often as simple as calling your credit card company and reporting the charge.  As soon as a charge is reported, the credit card company takes back the money from the merchant, and holds all fees from that transaction from your account.  In other words, you get your money back,  That is the way credit cards work.  


Debit cards are different.  Debit cards are cash withdraws from your bank account.  Credit card companies do NOT take responsibility for them.  Banks do what they can, but in truth, that is not much.  There is a delay of 24 hours for many debit transactions before the money actually moves out, but once money leaves the account, it is gone. Identity theft advisors often warn people to use your card as credit only, not debit to avoid this problem.  Use ATM machines only at your bank’s ATM locations, not ATM machines in convenience stores, malls and other unguarded locations.  Always make sure the machine has ended your transaction before you walk away.


To reassure people, banks have begun selling a new product: identity theft protection.  Nearly every bank has a version of it.  The $10 to $20 monthly fee is basically an insurance policy against loss due to identity theft. This fee covers transactions done on their accounts by others.  It is, like most insurance, a fee paid to avoid possible larger fees.  It is a gamble. WIll someone actually get you?  If so, is $520 to $1040 per year in insurance less than you would lose from the theft?


But the banks do not control your credit reports.  Credit reports in the US are run through three companies, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion.  Each company has their own website with lists of services, including Identity theft protection packages and more.  The prices again average $10 to $20 per month.  Equifax has more of a cafeteria style system where you can pick and choose different services that you may like. 


According to the law, you are entitled to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the agencies once per year.  Unlike the paid services, this free report is a simple one time report.  To get your report visit the website www.annualcreditreport.com . The web site will take you through all three agencies for your free reports.  Each of the agencies will display paid services that provide copies of your reports more often and credit scoring that you may choose if you like.  Quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily reports are available if you want to pay the fee.  If you skip all their paid services, you will still get your free once a year report.




There are also services advertised on television.  LifeLock and Free Credit Report Dot Com are the two biggest Credit and identity protection advertisers. 


 Life Lock (www.Lifelock.com) advertised by giving you the social security number of the CEO in their commercial.  He is not afraid of anyone stealing his Identity, because he uses LifeLock.  According to the internet ( www.metafilter.com/72057/Life-Locks-COE-Identity-Stolen ), someone stole his identity anyway.  In the end the person was caught, but the commercials seem to have also ended.  Lifelock has services for the person worried about their money, and more services for those worried about their neighborhood.  For $10 a month LifeLock will email you any time your name is put on a credit or service application.  They also make sure your true address is used, so no one can start a credit account with bills sent elsewhere in your name.  Additional services include wallet item replacement assistance, and loss insurance for up to $1 million.  Lifelock offers a $15 monthly service which does all the regular service does, but also has other protections.  They will assist with loss due to computer firewall breaches.  You will get updates on sex offenders in your area, public record changes, like real estate transactions, court and criminal activity, and you will get reports on aliases in your area.


Free Credit Report dot com (freecreditreport.com) advertises with a catchy tune musician who has credit troubles.  The poor musician ends up living in a basement, driving a beat-up car, waiting tables, and getting a bad cell phone all because he has credit problems.  I found it strange myself, since car and cell phone dealers often advertise no credit checks; and many jobs do not pull your credit information, just your criminal record.  Going to www.freecreditreport.com on the web will give you the chance to sign up for their services for a 7 day free trial. The free trial will become a $14.95 per month charge service if not cancelled within that 7 days.  The service provides you with information on who has checked your Experian credit report (not all three agencies), and what changes have been made each day.  It also gives you your credit score.


Are any of these worth it?  If your identity is stolen, does anything really help? An identity theft victim can end up with thousands of dollars against their credit, and sometimes face criminal charges.  


According to the US Department of Justice website (see below), there are specific things you can do to stop Identity theft.  They say remember the keyword “S.C.A.M.”  

S=Stingy. Be stingy with your personal information.  Never give info over the phone to a caller.  Use the numbers you have for your bank or your card company when calling them.  If they call and ask you for information, it is likely false.  

C=Check.  Check your financial information regularly and be sure nothing is there that should not be. Balancing your checkbook and card accounts and making sure your credit account information comes to the correct address.

A=Ask. Ask for a copy of your credit report.  Free credit reports are available once per year and each time you are refused credit.  Pay services can also provide them.

M=Maintain. Maintain careful records of your banking and financial accounts.  Keep the records in a secure place that you can get to whenever you need them.


But even a careful person who follows all of the steps and does everything right can have their card number stolen from even seemingly secure sources. What do you do if you are the victim of Identity theft?  

Your first step is to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) either online { www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ }, by phone at 1-877-IDTHEFT, TDD 202-326-2502, or by mail to Consumer Response Center,FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20580.  

Your second step would be to inform all three credit reporting services; Equifax, Experian (formerlyTRW), and Transunion. (websites and phone numbers at end of this article)

You can also call the local FBI or Secret Service office.  

If your mail has been redirected, contact the local Postal Inspection Office.  If your Social Security number was used, you need to contact the Social Security Administration to report the fraud.

If the fraud will affect your income tax, be sure to contact the Internal Revenue Service.

You should contact all financial institutions and creditors with whom your name was fraudulently used.

Contact the major check verification firms,especially if one has received a fraudulent check. The main agencies are: CheckRite - 800-766-2748, ChexSystems - 800-428-9623, CrossCheck - 800-552-1900, EquiFax - 800-437-5120, National Processing Co. (NPC) - 800526-5380, SCAN - 800-262-7771, TeleCheck - 800-710-9898


Will you need all these?  Who knows.  sometime in your lifetime, there will be a mistake made in your finances.  Whether it is Identity theft, a simple bank mistake, or  you using the wrong bank card at the wrong time, the best way to correct things is to know what is happening.  Keep in touch with your finances, and remember to keep your pin number and credit information secret from anyone you do not want spending your money.

 


 Equifax reporting agency -  www.equifax.com  800-685-1111

 Experian (formerly TRW) - www.experian.com  888-397-3742

TransUnion reporting agency -  www.transunion.com  800-680-7289

Life Lock protection services -  www.lifelock.com 800-543-3562

Independant Credit report monitoring service  www.freecreditreport.com  877-481-6826

US Department Of Justice -

www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html whatis  202-514-2000

US Federal Trade Commission -

www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft  877-382-4357

US Federal Bureau of Investigation-

www.fbi.gov/majcases/fraud/fraudschemes.htm#imperson   704-377-9200

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