Articles

Identity Theft

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States with over nine million victims annually. This crime will impact one out of every four people. Identity theft is when a suspect gains access to your personal information and/or account numbers then assumes your identity and goes on a spending spree. It is an invisible crime that victims only discover after they receive a bill, collection notice or attempt to make a large purchase such as a car and then realize their credit has been destroyed. Not only do identity theft victims spend money out of pocket to clear up their records, but they also must devote their time - up to hundreds of hours in some cases - doing so. In the meantime, victims are unjustly harassed by debt collectors, denied credit or employment opportunities, and in some cases even lose their cars, or their homes.  
 

A key defensive tool that has been available to Wisconsin identity theft victims for several years is the "fraud alert". A fraud alert is a message that an identity theft victim can place on his or her credit file, which alerts credit issuers who are doing a credit check in response to an application for new credit that your identity has been stolen. An initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days and is intended to prompt the credit issuer to call a given phone number or ask for additional proof of identity to verify that the applicant is not the impostor.

Discovering you have become a victim

You don't have to be a victim of identity theft for personal information to fall into the wrong hands. In the course of a busy day, how often might you share information about yourself in person, on the phone, or over the Internet? Although it is impossible to guarantee that identity theft won't happen to you, there are ways to reduce your chances of becoming a victim. Most victims don't discover the crime until it is too late. It can take a long time to reverse the damage these criminals can do to your credit rating. Any of these indicators could mean that you have become a victim of identity theft:

  • Mysterious bills for accounts you are not aware of
  • Phone calls from creditors about delinquent payments you don't recognize
  • Mail from unknown lenders asking for additional information

What to do if you believe you are a victim

If you believe you are the victim of a Fraud or an Identity Theft crime contact the police department.

  • Notify your financial institutions and ask if they have an identity theft assistance program.
  • Contact the three major credit bureaus and request a "fraud alert" be placed in your credit file.
  • Complete an affidavit with information regarding you as the victim, how the fraud occurred, law enforcement's actions, documentation checklist and fraudulent account statement(s). Note: Some creditors may have their own affidavit for you to complete.
  • Send a "blocking letter" to the credit bureaus asking them to block the fraudulent activity from your file.
  • Contact the fraud unit of the company that opened the fraudulent account. Request copies of documentation related to the account, such as a copy of the contract, statements or transaction records, and signatures.
  • Send a "dispute letter" to the company that issued your misused account asking them to remove the charge.
  • If you feel any legitimate accounts have been compromised, contact the financial institution right away.
  • As a victim, it is highly recommended that you contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the fraud and file a complaint. The FTC is the national repository for tracking Identity Theft Frauds
  • Keep a record of the credit bureaus, banks, and law enforcement agencies you have contacted while attempting to clear-up your credit file. Keep this chart in a safe place. This information is one of the first things the detective investigating your case will request from you. It also proves to your creditors that you have been diligent in your efforts to clear-up the fraudulent activity from your credit file.
  • If you suspect Social Security number misuse call the Social Security Fraud Line at (800) 269-0271. You may also file a complaint online at http://www.social security.gov/oig

Tips on how to avoid becoming a victim

Avoiding identity theft is not simple but there are several common sense things consumers can do:

  • Keep personal information in a safe place and avoid storing important documents in easily accessible places like glove boxes or day planners.
  • Don't give your social security or account number over the phone to anyone who has called you, or to anyone you don't know. Don't be afraid to ask why your personal information is needed and how it will be used.
  • Shred all documents that contain personal information before tossing them out. Never simply toss documents that contain your social security number in the trash can.
  • Cancel your paper bills and statements wherever possible and instead check your statements and pay bills on-line from financial institution secure websites.
  • Monitor your account balances and activity electronically (at least once per week).
  • If you don't have access to on-line accounts, review your paper bank and credit card statements monthly.
  • Refrain from carrying unnecessary information such as PIN's, passwords, or social security numbers in your wallet or purse.
  • Retrieve paper mail from your mailbox promptly and deposit outgoing mail containing sensitive information in a secure mailbox.

LINKS and DOWNLOADS

Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection

Report lost or stolen Wisconsin drivers license

Identity theft website

Lost or stolen US passport

Social Security Administration

Federal Trade Commission ID theft website

AARP identity theft

American Express

Master Card

Visa

Discover

Equifax Credit Reporting Bureau

Experian Credit Reporting Bureau

Transunion Credit Reporting Bureau

Free Annual Credit Report

Looks to good to be true

Internet crime complaint center ICW3

National white collar crime center NW3C

Opt out of credit card applications

To Report Fraudulent Use of Your Checks


Contact

Telephone

CheckRite

(800) 766-2748

CrossCheck

(800) 843-0760

Chexsystems

(800) 428-9623

Equifax

(800) 437-5120

International Check Services

(800) 526-5380

SCAN

(800) 262-7771

Telecheck

(800) 710-9898


Consumer Privacy Guide

Identity Theft Presentation

Identity Theft Victim Guide

Wisconsin Electronic Crime Statutes

Identity Theft Guide for Businesses

FTC Business Records Request

Sample Dispute Letter

Child Internet Safety Tips

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