E TENSION

E    TENSION
ARIZONA COOP E R AT I V E
E TENSION
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
AZ1431
01/07
Identity Theft, Simple Guide
to Protecting Yourself
Identity thieves are an unfortunate reality in our society.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity theft
tops the list at 37% of complaints. Consumers in the United
States reported losses from fraud of more than $680 million. It
is important to become aware of this problem and take some
steps to reduce your risk of becoming a victim. An identity
thief obtains some piece of your sensitive information and
uses it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft
against you. Identity theft is a serious crime. Victims have lost
job opportunities; been refused loans for education, housing
or cars; or even been arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.
You cannot completely control whether you will become a
victim. However, according to the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC), you can minimize your risk by managing your personal
information cautiously and with heightened sensitivity.
How Identity Theft Occurs
Skilled thieves gain access to your personal information by:
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Getting information from businesses or other
institutions by:
• stealing records from their employer,
• bribing an employee who has access to these
records, or
• hacking into the organization’s computers.
n
n
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Rummaging through your trash, or the trash of
businesses or dumps.
Obtaining credit reports by abusing their employer’s
authorized access to credit reports or by posing as a
landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a
legal right to the information.
Stealing credit and debit card numbers as your card
is processed by using a special information storage
device in a practice know as “skimming.”
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Stealing wallets and purses containing identification
and credit and bank cards.
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Stealing mail, including bank and credit card
statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or
tax information.
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Completing a “change of address form” to divert your
mail to another location.
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Stealing personal information from your home.
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Posing as a legitimate business person or government
official.
Once the thieves have your information, they may go on a
spending spree or open new credit card accounts, and when
they don’t pay the bills the delinquent account is reported on
your credit report. They may take out loans, obtain wireless
service, counterfeit checks or debit cards, open bank accounts,
file for bankruptcy under your name, give your name to police
during an arrest. (If they don’t show up in court, an arrest
warrant could be issued in your name.)
Ways to tell if you are a victim of
identity theft
Monitor balances of your financial accounts. Look for
unexplained charges or withdrawals.
Other indications:
n failing to receive bills or other mail signaling an
address change by the identity thief
n receiving credit cards for which you did not apply
denial of credit for no apparent reason
n receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about
merchandise or services you didn’t buy
Steps to take
New accounts show up on your credit report. You can obtain
one free annual report from one or all of the national consumer
reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or
call toll-free 1-877-322-8228. Some of the inaccuracies on your
credit report may be from computer, clerical, or other errors
and may not be a result of identity theft. This is a good time
to make sure your credit reports are accurate. If your personal
information has been lost or stolen, you may want to check
all of your reports more frequently for the first year.
To buy a copy of your credit reports
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Do not give out personal information on the phone,
through mail, or over the internet unless you have
initiated the contact or you are sure you know who
you are dealing with.
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Guard your mail and trash from theft. Deposit
outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or post
office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox.
Shred or tear your charge receipts, copies of credit
applications or offers, insurance forms, physician
statements, checks and bank statements, and expired
charge cards.
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Before revealing any identifying information, ask
how it will be used and secured, and whether it will
be shared with others. Ask if you can choose to have
the information kept confidential.
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Keep your Social Security card in a secure place. Ask
if you can substitute your social security number
for another number (employee ID number, driver’s
licence)
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Limit the identification information and the number
of credit and debit cards that you carry to what you
actually need.
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Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.
Equifax: www.equifax.com
1-800-685-1111
Experian: www.experian.com
1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
TransUnion: www.transunion.com
1-800-916-8800
Steps to take to reduce your risk of
identity theft
2
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Place passwords on your credit cards, bank and phone
accounts.
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Avoid using easily available information such as your
mother’s maiden name, birth date and the last four
digits of your social security number or your phone
number. (Try using a password instead.)
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Secure personal information in your home.
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Ask about security procedures in your workplace-who
has access to your personal information, are records in
a secure location. Ask about disposal procedures for
those records.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
Safeguard your computer
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Update virus protection software regularly.
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Don’t download files from strangers or click on
hyperlinks from people you don’t know.
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Use a firewall.
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Use a secure browser-software that encrypts or
scrambles information you send over the Internet.
n Try not to store financial information on your laptop
unless absolutely necessary. If you do, use a “strong”
password — that is a combination of letters (upper and
lower case), numbers, and symbols
n Avoid using an automatic log-in feature that saves your
user name and password; and always log off when
you’re finished.
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Delete any personal information stored on your
computer before you dispose of it.
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Read web site privacy policies which should contain
information about access security and control of your
personal information.
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Report spam e-mail to http://www.ftc.gov/spam
What to do if your identity has been
stolen
Take the following four steps right away:
1.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review
your credit reports every three months during the
first year.
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Equifax:
1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta GA 30374-0241.
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Experian:
1-888-397-3742; www.experian.com:
P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013.
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TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com:
Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O.
Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790.
2.
Close any accounts that have been tampered with or
opened fraudulently.
3.
File a report with your local police or the police in
the community where the identity theft took place.
4.
File a complaint with the FTC: www.consumer.
gov/idtheft or call toll free 1-877-IDTHEFT (4384338) or write: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal
Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC 20580.
References and Websites of Interest
Farrell, Claudia Bourne, Office of Public Affairs, “FTC Releases
Top 10 Consumer Fraud Complaint Categories
http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2006/01/topten.htm
Federal Trade Commission, “Consumer Fraud and Identity
Theft Complaint Data.” Washington, D.C., JanuaryDecember 2005.
h t t p : / / w w w. c o n s u m e r. g o v / s e n t i n e l / p u b s/
Top10Fraud2005.pdf
Federal Trade Commission, ID Theft, “TAKE CHARGE:
Fighting Back Against Identity Theft,” booklet. Washington,
D.C., June 2005.
http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft
Shanoff, Carolyn, Associate Director Federal Trade
Commission, “ID Theft, What’s it all about?” booklet.
Washington, D.C., 2004.
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/
idtheftmini.pdf
THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE AND LIFE SCIENCES
TUCSON, ARIZONA 85721
ID
Theft
EVELYN B. WHITMER, M.ED
Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
LINDA BLOCK, M.S., AFC
Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
This information has been reviewed by university faculty.
cals.arizona.edu/pubs/consumer/az1431.pdf
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
James A. Christenson, Director, Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, The University of Arizona.
The University of Arizona is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution. The University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color,
religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation in its programs and activities.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
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