Identity Theft

Paige Swan BrownMoney Talk

Identity Theft is a major concern for consumers in this day and age. It is a scary thought but educating yourself about Identity Theft can help you to prevent being a victim.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when thieves steal your personal information (e.g., your Social Security number, birth date or credit card numbers). With sufficient information, another person can become you and use your identity to commit fraud or other crimes. Activities related to Identity Theft can include the following:

  • Steal wallets and purses gaining access to your ID, credit
    and bank cards
  • Steal mail gaining access to your bank and credit card
    statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling
    cards and tax information
  • Complete a “change of address” form which diverts your mail
    to another location
  • “Dumpster dive” where they rummage through your trash or the trash of businesses for personal data
  • Fraudulently obtain your credit report
  • Find personal information in your home
  • Use personal information you share on the internet

Once a criminal obtains this sensitive information, what can they do with it? The risks of compromised information are endless. Some activities that criminals can do with your information include:

  • Gain control of your financial accounts
  • Purchase luxury goods and services
  • Make fraudulent loan and credit card applications
  • Hide criminal activities, such as money laundering
  • Obtain government benefits

IdentityTheftNewsletter2.docxIdentity theft is a serious problem. If the crime is not detected early, you may face months or years trying to clean up the damage to your reputation and credit. You may even lose out on loans, jobs, and other opportunities.

Despite the efforts of law enforcement, identity theft is becoming more sophisticated and the number of new victims is growing.

Common forms of identity theft include:

  • Phishing—Unsolicited emails that appear to be from a legitimate source that ask for personal financial information to be divulged via a bogus website. For example, you receive an email saying your account has been suspended. It tells you to go to a phony website immediately to reactivate.
  • Vishing—Criminal sends an email or fax instructing the customer to call a bogus telephone number to confirm sensitive information. For example, you receive an email saying your account has been suspended. It tells you to call 555 666 7777 immediately to reactivate.
  • Smishing—Legitimate looking cell phone text messages that ask for confirmation of personal financial information via an automated voice response system or a website URL. Just like the others, but you receive a text message on your smart phone rather than an email.
  • Pharming—Bogus websites seek personal or private information by appearing legitimate.
  • Skimming—Special storage device is used to obtain credit/debit card numbers.

How to Avoid Identity Theft:

There are actions that you can take to help protect yourself from becoming a victim of Identity Theft.

Protect Your Personal Information:

  • Protect your Social Security number, credit card and debit card numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords, and other personal information.
  • Never provide this information in response to an unsolicited phone call, fax, letter or email no matter how friendly or official the circumstances may appear.
  • Be mindful of those who may be shoulder surfing (or trying to look over your shoulder) while you use the ATM, and seeking to steal your PIN.


IdentityTheftNewsletter4.docxProtect Your Mail:

Protect your incoming and outgoing mail.

  • For incoming mail: Use a locked mailbox or other secure location like a post office box. Promptly remove any delivered mail or move the mailbox to a safer place. Have new checks delivered to your bank branch instead of mailed to your home.
  • For outgoing mail containing a check or personal information: Deposit it in a USPS blue collection box, hand it to a mail carrier or take it to the post office instead of leaving it in your doorway or home mailbox. Avoid putting your outgoing bills in your home mailbox and avoid putting up the flag on a mailbox to indicate that outgoing mail is waiting.

Sign up For Direct Deposit:

IdentityTheftNewsletter5.docxSigning up for direct deposit of your paycheck or state or federal benefits (e.g., Social Security) prevents someone from stealing that check out of your mailbox and forging your signature to access your money.

In addition, direct deposit may reduce the risk that delivery of income or benefits will be delayed in cases of emergency such as natural disaster.




Clean up Your Financial Trash:

Keep your financial trash “clean” to avoid Dumpster Divers. Thieves known as dumpster divers pick through garbage looking for pieces of paper containing Social Security numbers, bank account information, and other details they can use to commit fraud.

How many documents due you have that contain your social security number or personal information? Are these items under lock and key?


Watch Your Statements and Bills:

IdentityTheftNewsletter7.docxKeep a close watch on your bank account statements and credit card bills. Monitor these statements each month and contact your financial institution immediately if there is a discrepancy in your records or if you notice something suspicious like a missing payment or an unauthorized withdrawal.

  • While federal and state laws may limit your losses if you are a victim of fraud or theft, to fully protect yourself, you need to report the problem quickly.
  • Contact your institution if a bank statement or credit card bill does not arrive on time. Missing financially related mail could be a sign someone has stolen your mail and/or account information, and may have changed your mailing address to run up big bills in your name from another location.

Use Caution on the Internet:

Never provide bank account or other personal information in response to an unsolicited email or when visiting a website that does not explain how personal information will be protected.

  • Phishing scams that arrive by email typically ask you to update your account information. However, legitimate organizations would not ask you for these details because they already have the necessary information or can obtain it in other ways. Do not respond to these emails; and do not open any attachments unless you independently confirm the validity of the request by contacting the legitimate organization the way you usually would, not by using the email address, website or phone number provided in the email.
  • If you believe the email is fraudulent, consider bringing it to the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If you provide account information before you realize that the email is fraudulent, contact your financial institution immediately. For more about avoiding phishing scams or to obtain a brochure with tips on avoiding identity theft, visit

IdentityTheftNewsletter8.docxIn conjunction with using caution online, be sure to protect your personal computer.

  • Install a free or low-cost firewall to stop intruders from gaining remote access to your computer.
  • Download and frequently update security patches offered by your operating system and software vendors to correct weaknesses that a hacker might exploit.
  • Use passwords that will be hard for hackers to guess. For example, use a mix of numbers, symbols, and letters instead of easily guessed words.
  • Shut down your computer when you are not using it.
  • For practical tips to help you guard against Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information visit

Review Your Credit Report Annually:

IdentityTheftNewsletter9.docxReview your credit report carefully for warning signs of actual or potential identity theft. For example,

  • Items that include mention of a credit card, loan or lease you never signed up for, and
  • Requests for a copy of your credit record from someone you do not recognize), which could be a sign that a con artist is snooping around for personal information.

If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, contact your creditors immediately.

If you have not reviewed your credit report in the last 12 months, select a date by which you will do so during the next 30 days. If you find discrepancies, commit to contacting the creditor and addressing the situation right away.

What to do if you Suspect that you are a Victim of Identity Theft?

IdentityTheftNewsletter10.docxIf you believe you are a victim of identity theft, the FTC recommends you immediately take the following actions:

  • File a report with your local police. Get a copy of the police report so you have proof of the crime.
  • Contact your creditors about any accounts that have been changed or opened fraudulently. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department.
  • Follow up in writing and include copies of supporting documents.
  • Keep records of your conversations and all correspondence.
  • Use the Identity Theft Affidavit at to support your written statement.
  • File a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form ( or call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline.
  • Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.

Call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) or visit

Fraud Alerts:

If you suspect you have been a victim of identity theft or think you are about to be, such as when your wallet is stolen:

  • Contact the fraud department of any of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies. The agency you call is required to notify the other two credit agencies. Tell them you are an identity theft victim (or potential victim).

IdentityTheftNewsletter11.docxYou have the right to place an initial fraud alert in your credit file. You can do this by calling, writing or visiting any of the three credit agencies online. This initial fraud alert will last for 90 days and may be renewed.






What to Have Ready:

IdentityTheftNewsletter12.docxEmergencies do happen and you want to make sure that you and your family are prepared with certain documents and items. Knowing how and where to store important documents can help you protect your family from Identity Theft and prepare you for unexpected events.

  • Key one—make copies of important documents. You can even scan them for easy storage and access.
  • Key two—know where to store these copies.
    • Some items can be stored safely at home in a durable, fireproof safe including passport, medical care directives and other documents you could need on short notice.
    • Give copies to trusted loved ones or notify them where you are keeping them in case of emergency.
    • Store copies some distance from your home such as in another city or state in case the disaster impacts your entire community.
    • A bank safe deposit box is a good option for protecting certain papers that could be difficult or impossible to replace, but not anything you might need to access quickly. Keep original birth certificates and important contracts here.
  • Key three—ensure you have essential financial documents, cash, and other supplies you will need and sealing them in an airtight and waterproof plastic bag or container. Also prepare at least one emergency evacuation bag.

What to put inside?

  • Prescription medications to last several days
  • Flashlights
  • Cash and checks
  • Copies of your credit cards and identification cards
  • Key to your safe deposit box
  • Contact information for your financial services providers
  • There is actually a fourth key that you can use to unlock your peace of mind in an emergency. Consider doing each of these right away to get a head start on preparedness.
    • Sign up for automated deposits of income and benefits (a/k/a direct deposit
    • Arrange for automatic bill payments from your bank account
    • Sign up for Internet banking
    • Review your insurance coverage

What Information is Sensitive?

IdentityTheftNewsletter13.docxYou probably have ideas about some of these items and documents and know that they are important. But have you taken action? If you like, make a list of these items on the back of your handout so that you can make sure you have everything in order when you get home today!

  • Forms of identification—such as driver’s licenses or state identification cards, insurance cards, Social Security cards, passports, and birth certificates. You need these to rebuild lost records or otherwise prove to a government agency, a bank or other business that you are who you claim to be.
  • Your checkbook—with enough blank checks and deposit slips to last at least a month. Even if you rarely or never write checks, keep a copy of a check or your checking account number handy. This enables you to authorize an important payment over the phone in an emergency.
  • ATM cards, debit cards, and credit cards—give you access to cash and may help you pay outstanding bills. Make sure you know the PINs for your ATM and debit cards. Do not write your PINs on or near your cards in case they are lost or stolen.
  • Cash—for immediate purchases for you and your family. Remember that merchants and ATMs in areas affected by a disaster often do not immediately function as usual. This said, know that cash in your house or wallet can easily be lost or stolen.
  • Phone numbers—including bank and brokerage account numbers, credit card numbers, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy numbers.

Safe deposit box key —because you cannot access your safe deposit box at the bank without your key, no matter how many forms of identification you have. Also, while many banks issue two keys when a box is rented, simply giving someone else a key does not allow that person access to a box in an emergency. He or she also must be designated in the bank’s records as a joint renter or be appointed a deputy or agent who has access to your box. Contact your bank about the proper arrangements.


Paige Swan Brown

Assistant Branch Manager – Regions Bank