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1-800-333-6228
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TT/TTY 1-800-745-5555


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LifeWatch

Identity Theft Defense: Report, Recover, and Retain

We are without a doubt living in a technologically driven world. Communication is now dominated by technology, particularly through the internet and over the phone. Emails, text messaging, and instant messaging have transformed the way we exchange information. We can now pay bills, view our financial information, get credit reports, and apply for loans and mortgages using the telephone and more recently over the internet.

Sensitive information gets transferred daily, usually securely, over the internet. Scams and frauds are out there, however, and identity theft is a very real problem in our lives today. We hear horror stories about stolen social security numbers, credit card numbers, and bank account information. If someone stole your identity, would you be prepared to deal with it? Here are some prevention tips, as well as information and resources which will be helpful if you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft.

The best defense is a good offense:

  •  When keying in PIN numbers and/or passwords, whether in your office, at a store or at an ATM kiosk, be mindful of those standing around you. If you suspect someone trying to read your info over your shoulder, stop the transaction.
  • Be wary of ATMs with more than one card slot or a sign (no matter how official looking) instructing you to use the machine in any way that is out of the ordinary. A second card slot may be a device installed by an identity thief to record your personal information. When in doubt, use another ATM.
  • Keep personal copies of all banking information. Banks are required to retain these records for five years, but having them at your fingertips in your own personal files can prove helpful when reporting identity theft.
  • Any paper statements (check, credit card, bills, or bank) should be shredded before disposal. "Dumpster diving" is still a common practice among identity thieves.
  • Carefully review bank and credit card statements for any unusual activity. There will usually be a phone number on those statements to call to report any inaccuracies and discrepancies.
  • Contact your bank, credit card company, and any other company that bills you on a regular basis. Ask that your personal information (social security number, telephone number, etc.) not be printed on the statements/bills. Most companies are more than happy to comply.
  • Adopt a "need to know" approach to your personal information. If you receive phone calls or emails from credit card companies or banks asking for personal information that they should already have on file, be wary and ask to receive a written request for that information. If the caller denies the request for written information, tell him or her that you’re not interested and hang up. If you choose to call the company back, use the telephone number on your bill/bank statement and NOT the number given in an email or phone message.
  • You can contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to find out if the company requesting information has been subject to any complaints.
  • If traveling, contact the post office and have them hold your mail, or entrust a close friend or family member to collect it for you. Likewise, if you are moving, make sure to contact the post office well in adv
  • If you apply for a new credit/ debit card or if one is due to expire, watch the mail for it. Contact the company if it does not arrive promptly. If a new card must be mailed, verify that they have the correct address and that the new card will have a number different from the one they already mailed.
  • Get a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states). This will list all bank and financial accounts.

What to do if you think your identity has been stolen

  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the situation, toll-free 1-877-ID THEFT (1-877-438-4338) or TDD at 202-326-2502, online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or by mail to Consumer Response Center, FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington DC 20580
  • Contact your local office of the Postal Inspection Service or visit http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/ if you suspect any postal fraud.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration if you suspect that your Social Security number is being fraudulently used (call 1-800-829-0433 to report the violations).
  • Call the fraud units of the three principal credit reporting companies:
    • Equifax - call 1-800-525-6285 to report fraud, call 1-800-685-1111 to order a copy of your credit report, and to opt out of pre-approved offers of credit, call 1-888-567-8688
    • Experian (formerly TRW) - call 1-888-EXPERIAN or 1-888-397-3742, to order a copy of your credit report, call 1-888-EXPERIAN, and to opt out of pre-approved credit offers and marketing lists call 1-888-5OPTOUT.
    • TransUnion - call 1-800-680-7289 to report fraud, call 1-800-888-4213 to order a copy of your credit report, and to opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists call 1-888-5OPTOUT.
    • To dispute information in your credit report, call the phone number provided on the report.
  • Contact all creditors with whom you share your information. (Ex. Long distance phone providers, credit cards, banks, etc.) Stop payment on any accounts that would be affected. Many times this will involve re-setting PIN numbers, getting new credit cards, and establishing new account numbers.

One thing to keep in mind is that you are not alone in your situation. Identity theft happens to many people, which is why many of the above services have been created. These services are in place to aid in the recovery of your information. By using the above contacts and resources, you can quickly and efficiently report, recover, and retain your personal information.

Sources: U.S. Dept. of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/idtheft.html

Bell, Erin Brown. EAPs Can Help Employees Protect Themselves From Identity

Theft, EAP Digest, Summer 2006. p.25-29.