When Your Name and Credit History are on the Line

(information gathered from the National Association for Bank Security, www.banksecurity.com)

The FBI says that identity theft is the fastest growing white-collar crime in the nation. It involves criminally using another individual's personal identifiers , which are acquired through various means, including your own mail box. Identity thieves need only obtain your name, address, and bank or credit card account numbers, or your social security number, etc., to take over your identity. The crooks can then change your address, open new accounts at banks and credit card companies in your name, and deplete your funds, running up huge credit card balances and generally creating havoc with your good name and credit rating. Here are a couple of typical complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and a few pointers to help you avoid becoming a victim.

These complaints reflect just two of the tens of thousands of instances of identity theft that have impacted ordinary people. Identity theft affects not just the wealthy. It can impact anyone. Identity theft results in job turndowns, denied loans and impaired credit history. Repairing the damage from identity theft may take months, even years.

There are ways to help protect against identity theft. Some of this is accomplished when a bank asks you for identification or your credit card company card company calls to verify a recent purchase. Banks and law enforcement will do what they can, but identity theft is often very difficult to detect.

Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft

This is chiefly your responsibility. You are in the best position to protect your own identity by taking some basic precautions. The list that follows suggests some of the things you can do.

Sources for Assistance

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the Federal government's primary agency for dealing with identity theft matters. They operate a hotline devoted only to identity theft. The toll free number is: 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338). The FTC publication Identity Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name, February 2002, contains many useful tips such as:

If You Become a Victim

First, contact the fraud departments of each of the major credit card bureaus.

Second, contact the creditors or bank for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

Third, file a report with your local police department or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

The telephone numbers of the three major credit reporting bureaus are:

EQUIFAX - To order your report, call: 800-685-1111, or to report fraud, call: 800-525-6285/ TDD: 800-255-0056

EXPERIAN - To order your report, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742), or to report fraud, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)/ TDD: 800-972-0322

TRANSUNION - To order your report, call: 800-916-8800, or to report fraud, call: 800-680-7289

Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence ACT of 1998

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence ACT makes it a federal crime when someone:

"Knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law."

Note that under the ACT, a name or social security number is considered a "means of identification." So is a credit card number, cellular telephone number electronic serial number or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual.