Title: ID Theft Test

In the course of a busy day, you may write a check at the grocery store, charge tickets to a ball game, rent a car, mail your tax returns, call home on your cell phone, order new checks or apply for a credit card. Chances are you don’t give these everyday transactions a second thought. But someone else may. The 1990’s spawned a new variety of crooks called identity thieves. Their stock in trade is your everyday transaction. Each transaction requires you to share personal information: your bank and credit card account numbers; your income; your Social Security number (SSN); or your name, address and phone numbers. An identity thief co-opts some piece of your personal information and appropriates it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. An all-too-common example is when an identity thief uses your personal information to open a credit card account in your name.

Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years — and thousands of dollars — cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans for education, housing, cars, or even be arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. Humiliation, anger and frustration are common feelings victims experience as they navigate the arduous process of reclaiming their identity.

Perhaps you’ve received your first call from a collections agent demanding payment on a loan you never took out — for a car you never bought. Maybe you’ve already spent a significant amount of time and money calling financial institutions, canceling accounts, struggling to regain your good name and credit. Or maybe your wallet’s been stolen, or you’ve just heard about identity theft for the first time on the nightly news, and you’d like to know more about protecting yourself from this devastating crime. This booklet is for you. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), working with other government agencies and organizations, has produced this booklet to help you guard against and recover from identity theft. Can you completely prevent identity theft from occurring? Probably not, especially if someone is determined to commit the crime. But you can minimize your risk by managing your personal information wisely and cautiously.

If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338). Counselors will take your complaint and advise you on how to deal with the credit-related problems that could result. In addition, the FTC, in conjunction with banks, credit grantors and consumer advocates, has developed the ID Theft Affidavit to help victims of ID theft restore their good names. The ID Theft Affidavit, a form that can be used to report information to many organizations, simplifies the process of disputing charges with companies where a new account was opened in your name. For a copy of the ID Theft Affidavit, visit the ID Theft Web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

The Hotline and Web site give you one place to report the theft to the federal government and receive helpful information. The FTC puts your information into a secure consumer fraud database where it can be used to help other law enforcement agencies and private entities in their investigations and victim assistance.

How Identity Theft Occurs

Despite your best efforts to manage the flow of your personal information or to keep it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods — low- and hi-tech — to gain access to your data. Here are some of the ways imposters can get your personal information and take over your identity.

How identity thieves get your personal information:

  • They steal wallets and purses containing your identification and credit and bank cards.
  • They steal your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, and tax information.
  • They complete a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location.
  • They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data in a practice known as “dumpster diving.”
  • They fraudulently obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legitimate need for, and legal right to, the information.
  • They find personal information in your home.
  • They use personal information you share on the Internet.
  • They scam you, often through email, by posing as legitimate companies or government agencies you do business with.
  • They get your information from the workplace in a practice known as “business record theft” by: stealing files out of offices where you’re a customer, employee, patient or student; bribing an employee who has access to your files; or “hacking” into electronic files.

How identity thieves use your personal information:

  • They call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, ask to change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there’s a problem.
  • They open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth and SSN. When they use the credit card and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
  • They establish phone or wireless service in your name.
  • They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
  • They file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred under your name, or to avoid eviction.
  • They counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account.
  • They buy cars by taking out auto loans in your name.
  • They give your name to the police during an arrest. If they’re released from police custody, but don’t show up for their court date, an arrest warrant is issued in your name.

Minimize Your Risk- Take the ID Theft Quiz

(Developed by Frank Abagnale who's story was portrayed in the movie Catch Me if You Can)

  • You receive several offers of pre-approved credit every week (5 points).  Add five more if you don't shred them before putting them in the trash.
  • You carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse (10 points).
  • You don't have a post office box or a locked, secured mailbox (5 points).
  • You drop off your outgoing mail at an open, unlocked box or basket (10 points)
  • You carry your military ID in your wallet at all times (10 points).
  • You don't shred or tear banking and credit information when you throw it in the trash (10 points).
  • You provide your Social Security number whenever asked (10 points).  Add five points if you provide it orally without checking to see who might be listening.
  • You're required to use your SSN as an employee or student ID number (5 points).
  • Your SSN is printed on an employee badge that you wear (10 points).
  • Your SSN or driver's license number is printed on your personal checks (20 points).
  • You are listed in a "Who's Who" guide (5 points).
  • You carry your insurance card in your wallet and it contains your SSN or your spouse's SSN (20 points).
  • You haven't ordered a copy of your credit report for at least two years (10 points).
  • You don't believe that people root around in your trash looking for credit or financial information (10 points).

If you scored more than 100 points, you're at high risk.  You should purchase a paper shredder, become more security aware in document handling, and start to question why people need your personal data.

If you scored 50-100 points, your odds of being victimized are about average, though higher if you have good credit.

If you scored 0-50 points, congratulations. You've got a high security IQ. Keep up the good work and don't let your guard down now.

Updated: 1/19/2007 9:45:29 AM

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