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Identity Theft

In today's world of technology, thieves have a much easier time using other people's identities and credit to commit fraud. Identity theft is the act of using a person's personal information to obtain credit, get loans, access bank accounts, rent property, obtain employment or commit serious crimes. This occurs so often that it is likely that you or someone you know is already a victim. Often consumers find out they are victims only after they have received very high bills in the mail for purchases they did not make, or in extreme circumstances, when they try to conduct credit card transactions and their credit card is denied. In such cases, even without the consumers' knowledge, his or her personal credit history is affected. While identity theft cannot be completely prevented, consumers can minimize the risks that personal information will be used without permission.

Consumers should keep the following tips in mind to protect their identity:

Pay attention when sharing personal information with others. Consumers should never give out Social Security Numbers or credit card account numbers over the telephone unless the person or company on the other end of the line is known by the consumer.

Photocopy all the contents of your wallet. This includes the fronts and backs of all credit cards. Keep this information in a secure location. If a wallet is stolen, notify the bank or issuer of each credit card as soon as possible. Each credit card has a customer service telephone number printed on it. By photocopying the cards, a record of all credit cards and account numbers, as well as the telephone number needed to call to cancel the cards are available. Do not carry identification containing sensitive information, such as a Social Security Number, unless absolutely necessary.

Review billing records. If a charge is not recognized, contact the creditor and question the charge. Also, notify the creditor if any bills do not arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over a credit card account and changed the address to cover his/her tracks. Destroy all files containing Social Security Numbers, account numbers, and birth dates. Privacy advocates recommend using a crosscut shredder to shred documents and hard-drive shredding software to destroy a computer's hard drive before discarding a home computer.

Be aware when using automated teller machines. Always be familiar with the surroundings. Guard against people observing private ATM personal information numbers by using a free hand to shield the keypad. Also, do not use cordless telephones to conduct sensitive financial business. Eavesdroppers may be able to overhear the conversation.

If a victim:
  • The federal government provides valuable information as well as the steps to take in reporting the crime at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. There is also a universal ID Theft Affidavit used by many banks, credit card companies and other institutions. Consumers can download a copy of this form from the Federal Trade Commission's website, www.ftc.gov or from the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs' website www.tn.gov/consumer/ or by calling 1-800-342-8385 (if in Tennessee) or 1-615-741-4737.
  • If a credit card is stolen, notify the bank or credit card issuer immediately. Also, notify the local police and file a theft report. Finally, notify the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) and place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security Number. Sometimes an identity thief can strike even when consumers are being very careful. One of the best ways to catch identity theft is by ordering a copy of a credit report and checking it yearly.

Equifax:
1-800-525-6285 (report fraud)
1-800-685-1111 (to order credit report)

Experian:
1-888-EXPERIAN (to report fraud or order credit report)

Trans Union:
1-800-680-7289 (to report fraud)
1-800-916-8800 (to order credit report)

Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft