Web Reviews: A Case of Taken Identity
Web Reviews: A Case of Taken Identity
Ten years ago, a criminal might have picked your pocket and used your driver’s license and credit card to make a purchase before you could call the company. Today, a criminal can steal your very identity without your knowledge. Identity theft--in which criminals steal your personal information to commit fraud or theft--is the fastest-growing white-collar crime in the United States, affecting more than 600,000 Americans in 2001, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Identity theft could adversely impact your customers’ credit records and make it more difficult for them to secure home loans. In extreme cases, they might even lose their homes. A disturbing string of cases in Detroit saw criminals assume elderly homeowners’ identities and strip their homes of equity. You can use the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft page to educate your customers and yourself about this growing crime.
The site provides information on how consumers can minimize their exposure to identity theft, as well as steps victims can take. As the site points out, you probably make dozens of transactions each day in which you exchange personal information such as your social security number, address, and credit card number. Managing this information wisely reduces your risk of fraud. For instance, the site advises common-sense steps such as making sure to destroy old charge receipts, credit applications, bank statements, and credit card offers, as well as giving out your social security number only when absolutely necessary. You should also minimize the number of credit cards that you carry and make sure that you have the phone numbers to call the card companies immediately if these items are lost or stolen. The site also stresses the importance of regularly checking your credit record with each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experion, and Trans Union. (You can order one free report per year from each.) Regular checks can find incorrect information before it comes back to haunt customers applying for a mortgage loan.
Sometimes, despite your best precautions, identity thieves can capture your personal information. The FTC recommends that identity theft victims immediately take the following actions:
- "Report the crime to the fraud departments at each of the three major credit bureaus. Ask for them to place a "fraud alert" on your file, and request that they not grant any new credit in your name without your approval."
- "Contact the security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions. Close these accounts. Put passwords (not your mother’s maiden name) on any new accounts you open."
- "File a report with your local police or the police where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report in case the bank, credit card company, or others need proof of the crime later on."
The FTC site also offers several resources for identity-fraud victims, including an online form that you can use to report fraud claims directly to the agency. The form includes such information as your contact information, the nature of crime committed, and problems that you’ve had with companies as the result of the crime. The FTC doesn’t resolve individual consumer problems, but your complaint begins an investigation process that can lead to law enforcement action. Another document, the ID Theft Affidavit, available on the site in PDF format in both English and Spanish, is a single form that you can use to alert participating companies that a criminal has opened an account in your name. The companies will then investigate your fraud complaint.
The site also maintains general resources that you can use to educate yourself, such as a section on national and state laws on identity theft. Additionally, you can download FTC Consumer information brochures, in both texts and PDF format, such as ”ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name,” “Identity Crisis... What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen,” and “Identity Thieves Can Ruin Your Good Name: Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft.” The FTC also maintains a links page that connects to related Web sites such as credit bureaus, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and the Identity Theft Clearinghouse.
Identity theft is a growing crime, and it isn’t likely to decline any time soon. With the help of the FTC, you can help your customers protect themselves from fraud that can damage their credit records and possibly impair their ability to purchase a home down the line.
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