by Vee Daniel, President and CEO, Better Business Bureau of the Upstate
Did you know that protecting your identity is largely in your own hands? Fifty-six percent of identity theft victims traced the theft to something that was stolen from their own possession.
So here’s the first rule: If you don’t need it, shred it – responsibly
With a new victim of identity theft coming every two seconds, taking a few minutes to shred paper documents could save a consumer from becoming another statistic. 13.1 million Americans reported they were a victim of identity fraud in 2015. It only takes one misplaced personal document to give a thief everything needed to steal your identity.
The BBB has some tips on how to reduce your chances of becoming a victim and what actions you can take if it does occur.
- Cut up old or expired credit cards. Close all inactive credit card and bank accounts. Even though you do not use them, these accounts appear on your credit report and may be used by thieves.
- Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated contact or know the business with which you are dealing. Shred credit card statements, bank statements and pre-approved credit offers when you do not need them. Consider investing in a paper shredder.
- Decrease the number of unsolicited credit card applications that you receive. The fewer applications you receive, the less likely it is that one will be stolen. Call (888) 5OPT-OUT to have your name removed from the marketing lists sold by the three credit bureaus for two years.
- Ask your bank about its privacy policies and information practices. Find out the circumstances under which your bank would provide your account information to a third party.
Correct the Problem
The most important thing to do when you discover identity fraud is to take action right away. Remember to keep records of all your telephone calls and other correspondence with companies regarding the identity fraud.
- File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Keep a copy of the police report and make note of the date of your report, in case your bank, credit card company or other company needs proof of the crime.
- Call your credit card issuers right away to check on the status of your accounts if your bills do not arrive on time. If necessary, close all your accounts. You should keep a record in a safe place, separate from your credit cards, of your account numbers, expiration dates, and the telephone numbers of each card issuer so you can report a loss quickly.
- Canceling your credit cards does not stop them from opening new accounts under your name. To prevent this, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and ask them to “flag” your file as one belonging to a possible fraud victim. This warning will include a statement that creditors should call to get your permission before approving new credit cards or loans in your name. After calling each of the three credit bureaus (listed in the Resources section of this report), you should follow up with them in writing. Keep copies of such written notices.
- Major credit bureaus – When contacting the credit bureaus, you need to provide your Social Security number, date of birth, phone number, current address, any previous addresses over the past two years, and the name of your current employer.
- Equifax – Call 1-800-525-6285
- Experian – Call 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion – Call 1-800-680-7289
- Federal Trade Commission – FTC helps identity theft victims identify resources and connect with law enforcement. Call the hotline at 1-877-438-4338
- Social Security Fraud Hotline -If your Social Security number is being used call 1-800-269-0271
- U.S.Postal Inspector – Contact if a thief stole your mail to get new credit cards or any other information in your name. Contact your local post office for the phone number of the nearest postal inspection agent.
- FBI – Contact the Columbia, SC Office at 803-551-4200
- BBB – Contact if you would like to check the Reliability Rating of a company or if you have a problem resolving fraudulent charges. Call the Elder Fraud Hotline at (864) 240-2080.