Identity Theft FAQ
What can I do to protect myself from identity theft?
There is no absolute way to completely prevent identity theft; however, the best way to minimize your risk is to protect and monitor your personal information, which enables earlier detection of potential fraudulent activities. Early detection of fraud greatly reduces the financial, emotional and legal burden associated with identity theft. Here are some tips to help protect your identity:
1. Protect your Social Security number (SSN).
- Don’t carry your Social Security card with you.
- Refuse to provide your Social Security number. Only a few organizations such as motor vehicle departments, tax departments, and welfare departments have the right to require your Social Security number. In addition, employers, banks and other financial institutions that necessitate tax transactions can require your Social Security number. For all other accounts, ask if they will accept an alternative proof of identification.
- Don’t put your Social Security number on your driver’s license.
- Don’t put your Social Security number on your personal checks.
2. Guard your personal information.
- Watch for people who may try to look over your shoulder, eavesdrop, or take a picture with a camera phone when exchanging personal information.
- SHRED. Before you throw out any documents that contain sensitive or personal information, such as credit card statements or offers, utility bills or tax documents, make sure you completely shred them.
- Use a locked mailbox to send and receive all mail.
3. Know and monitor your personal information.
- Frequently check your credit report(s) to validate that all of the information listed is correct.
4. Be suspicious.
- Do not respond to suspicious e-mail requests and never send information such as your Social Security information, credit card number, or User ID/Password information through an e-mail.
- Never provide information to a telephone solicitor unless you have initiated the call and it is a legitimate institution.
What privacy questions should I ask of any business?
Every type of business, from banks to doctors, maintains records of your personal data. How do you know if a business is keeping your personal information safe? It is increasingly common for fraud to result from the loss or theft of consumer data from businesses. Mosaic provides you with five important questions to ask any business before you reveal sensitive personal information such as your Social Security number.
- Why do you need my information? In some cases, businesses may not really need to keep your Social Security number or other information in their system. You may be able to substitute your Social Security number for a custom ID number instead. You can also decline to provide personal data in some situations: for example, when you are asked for your phone number at a store’s register.
- How will my information be used? Ask businesses how your personal data is going to be used. When a company asks for your Social Security number, are they going to use it to identify your records or to access your credit report? Ask the business if they are going to provide your information to third party vendors. By law, banks must give you an opportunity to opt-out from sharing non-public personal data with other companies.
- How do you keep my information safe? Ask about a company’s security policies. Does the company lock their file cabinets? Is computer data encrypted and protected by a firewall? If your data is transmitted online, is it done using a secure system? Who has access to your personal data? Companies should have detailed plans and security measures in place to keep your information safe.
- Have you ever had a security breach? Under California and other state laws, businesses must announce when they have experienced a theft or loss of personal data. Ask companies if they have ever had records stolen, if anyone has hacked into their computer system, or if they have ever lost sensitive data. Search online to see if there have been any security problems in the company’s past.
- How do you dispose of old records? Old personal records should be shredded before being thrown away. If personal files are thrown out without being shredded, an identity thief could steal them from the trash. If your records are stored, is it with a secure document facility? Many businesses use a pick-up shredding service to dispose of old documents. Ask how long your records will be kept before they are deleted or destroyed.
Companies know that privacy concerns are important to their customers. Data theft is common at universities, medical offices, financial institutions, and other businesses that keep records about you. A trustworthy company should be able to quickly and honestly answer all five of your privacy questions.
How does the identity thief get my information?
Identity thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information. Identity thieves may:
- Steal records from their employer, bribe an employee who has access to the records, con information out of employees, or hack into the organization’s computers.
- “Dumpster dive” through your trash at home or work to find bills and credit statements that contain personal information.
- Fraudulently obtain credit reports by either posing as a perspective landlord or misusing an employer’s authorized access to credit reports.
- Steal credit and debit card account numbers as your card is processed by using a special information storage device in a practice known as “skimming.”
- Steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
- Steal your mail or complete a change of address to redirect your mail so that they will receive your credit card statements or tax information.
- Use camera phones to take a picture of your credit or personal information while you complete a retail transaction.
- Steal personal information from your home.
- Scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.
How can I tell if I am a victim of identity theft?
Consistently monitor both your financial and public record information and look for:
- Unfamiliar criminal records, court records, address information, or bankruptcies.
- Unexplained charges or withdrawals.
Other signs that can indicate possible identity theft:
- Failing to receive bills or other mail. This may signal an address change by the identity thief.
- Being served court papers or arrest warrants for actions you did not commit.
- Receiving credit cards for which you did not apply.
- Being denied credit for no apparent reason.
- Receiving calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you did not buy.
Although any of these indications could be a result of a simple clerical error, you should not assume that there’s been a mistake and do nothing. Always follow up with the business or institution.
What should I do if I am a victim of identity theft?
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- Report the crime to the police immediately. Get a copy of your police report or case number. Credit card companies, your bank, and the insurance company may ask you to reference the report to verify the crime.
- Immediately contact your credit card issuers. Get replacement cards with new account numbers and ask that the old account be processed as “account closed at consumer’s request” for credit record purposes. You should also follow up this telephone conversation with a letter to the credit card company that summarizes your request in writing.
- Call the fraud units of the three credit reporting bureaus and ask that your accounts be flagged. Also, add a victim’s statement to your report that requests that they contact you to verify future credit applications:
Equifax Credit Information Services – Consumer Fraud Div.
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, Georgia 30348
Tel: (888) 766-0008
TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Center
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834
Tel: (800) 680-7289
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, Texas 75013-2104
Phone: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
- Keep a log of all conversations with authorities and financial entities. And follow-up! Make sure that all creditors or credit bureaus have received what they need from you.
- Review your reports regularly and make sure all changes you requested have been effected
What are new identity theft trends?
Identity thieves are constantly working to find new ways to steal consumer data. While the tactics we already mentioned are most common, the following are new identity theft methods on the rise:
- Phishing – Almost everyone with e-mail has received a phishing e-mail at some point. These e-mails are designed to look like official messages from a bank or Web site, such as eBay, and ask you to update your account information. When you enter your data online it goes straight to an identity thief. Phishing can also occur over the phone when someone pretending to be your bank or credit card company calls you asking for account information.
- Pharming – In this variation on phishing, thieves set up fake Web sites that look like official companies in order to “pharm” consumer data. When you type in a wrong URL or when you have a specific virus on your computer, you are directed to a fake site that looks like the real one. Thieves collect information when you enter your login information and other data on this fake site.
- Skimming – Thieves use tiny hand-held credit card readers to collect the information on your credit card’s magnetic strip. Skimming is common in restaurants and stores where you turn over your credit card to pay. When a skimming device is full of hundreds of credit card numbers, these numbers can be sold or used to create fake credit cards. Skimming devices can also be placed over the normal card reader on an ATM to steal your data when you try to withdraw money.
- Wireless hacking – With more and more people using wireless internet in their homes and on their cell phones, it has also become more common for identity thieves to access personal data by tapping into these wireless connections. If your wireless network or Bluetooth system isn’t secure and encrypted, the information on your phone or computer could be stolen.
Why is continuous monitoring of my public information important?
Early detection of identity theft is one the most important factors in helping to reduce the financial and legal burden that can result from identity theft. The identity thief can acquire a driver’s license, get married or even get arrested using your identity and you would never know this by looking at your credit report alone – so having access to both your public record information, coupled with your credit information, is one of the most effective ways to combat identity theft.
Identity theft is on the rise. In fact, it is considered the fastest growing crime in America. By understanding how identity theft occurs and by taking a few precautions to protect your identity, you can reduce your chances of falling victim to this crime. If you are a victim, you can read more about what to do in an identity theft emergency online.
Who can access my public records?
As the name indicates, a public record – is public. Each individual record, such as a tax lien, criminal record, lawsuit information or court decision can be acquired – usually for a fee to anyone who requests that specific record from the recording jurisdiction.
Can I opt out of the public records database?
No. Public records, by law, are available to the public. Records, such as tax liens, real estate information, criminal records, lawsuit information and court decisions are made available to anyone who contacts the appropriate jurisdiction and requests to view them.
What is the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of consumer reporting agencies. The FCRA gives consumers specific rights which are summarized below. You may have additional rights under state law.
- You must be told if information in your file has been used against you. Anyone who uses information from a consumer reporting agency to deny your application for credit, insurance or employment or take another adverse action against you must tell you and give you the name, address, and phone number of the agency that provided the information.
- You can find out what is in your file. At any time, you may request and obtain your report from a consumer reporting agency. You are entitled to free reports if a person has taken adverse action against you because of information in a report; if you are the victim of identity theft or fraud; if you are on public assistance; or if you are unemployed but expect to apply for employment within 60 days. In addition, you are entitled to one free report every 12 months from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies and from some specialized consumer reporting agencies. You may request your report beginning on December 1, 2004, or on a later date, depending on where in the country you live.
- You have a right to know your credit score. For a fee, you may request your credit score. In some mortgage transactions, you will receive credit score information without charge.
- You can dispute inaccurate information with the consumer reporting agency. If you tell a consumer reporting agency that your file has inaccurate information, the agency must take certain steps to investigate unless your dispute is frivolous.
- Inaccurate information must be corrected or deleted. A consumer reporting agency or furnisher must remove or correct information verified as inaccurate, usually within 30 days after you dispute it. However, a consumer reporting agency may continue to report negative data that it verifies as being accurate.
- Outdated negative information may not be reported. In most cases, a consumer reporting agency may not report negative information that is more than seven years old or bankruptcies that are more than 10 years old.
- Access to your file is limited. A consumer reporting agency may provide information about you only to people with a valid need as determined by the FCRA – usually to consider an application with a creditor, insurer, employer, landlord or other business.
- Identity theft victims and active-duty military personnel have additional rights. Victims of identity theft have new rights under the FCRA. Active-duty military personnel who are away from their regular duty station may file “active duty” alerts to help prevent identity theft.
For more information, go to www.ftc.gov/credit, or write to: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
What is the Federal Trade Commission?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces a variety of federal antitrust and consumer protection laws, including the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, the law that regulates consumer-reporting agencies, those who use credit reports, and those who furnish information to consumer reporting agencies. The FTC ensures that all three parties (consumers, consumer reporting agencies, and lenders) are treated in a fair and equitable manner.
The FTC’s mission is to help the nation’s markets function competitively and efficiently, unhampered by needless restrictions. It works to spotlight and eliminate acts or practices that are unfair or deceptive. In general, the FTC tries to stop actions that threaten consumers’ opportunities to exercise informed choice. It also performs economic analyses, when asked, to support its law enforcement efforts and to contribute to the policy as set forth by Congress, the Executive Branch, other independent agencies, and state and local governments.
In addition to carrying out its statutory enforcement responsibilities, the FTC advances the policies underlying Congressional mandates through cost-effective non-enforcement activities, such as consumer education.
About Credit Reports
What is a credit bureau?
Credit bureaus, or credit reporting agencies, are clearinghouses for information about consumers’ credit. When you apply for credit, they provide this information to the creditors. There are three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
How do the credit bureaus obtain information?
Credit bureaus collect information from banks, savings and loans, credit unions, finance companies, and retailers about your credit, which they store in a computer database.
Do all three credit bureaus have the same information on file?
No, due to the fact that different lenders send information to some bureaus and not the others. Credit reports are available from three main reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and these bureaus do not exchange information with each other. Therefore each of them may have different information, depending on whom and what was reported to them. What is on one report may differ from another.
Who can look at my credit report?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act stipulates that lenders with whom a consumer has applied for a loan can view credit reports – for example, credit card companies and financial institutions supplying auto loans and mortgages. But the list continues: landlords, utility companies, phone companies, hospitals, doctors, dentists, insurance companies, credit unions, finance companies, banks, retailers, department stores, car dealers, mortgagers, investigators, lawyers, courts – most anyone who can give the bureaus just cause can view your credit report.
How long does information stay in my credit report?
Public records and collection items stay on your report for seven years with the exception of bankruptcies, which stay on for ten years. Unpaid tax liens remain for 15 years. Positive information remains indefinitely, although agencies can remove it after seven years. Inquiries remain for two years.
Why should I check my credit report?
Just as you have medical and dental check-ups periodically, so should you check your credit report. Knowing what is in your credit report arms you with the information you need – your credit standing – when trying to secure favorable rates for a mortgage or other loan. Also, if you regularly check your credit report, you can guard against credit fraud and identity theft, the fastest-growing federal crimes in the nation.
Credit files are windows into your private life. Lenders look at your credit history to assess your creditworthiness. It is to your advantage to know what your credit report says about you before applying for credit so you can correct any inaccurate data.
It is also important for you to understand that with the rise in identity theft and credit card fraud, you may not know that someone has assumed your identity or opened new accounts until they default on loans, or collection agencies start calling you. With Mosaic’s credit monitoring services you will be notified of changes so you can act quickly if you suspect fraud.
How often should I check my credit report?
With the explosive growth of identity theft, experts recommend checking your credit report on a quarterly basis. That way, when there’s a change you don’t recognize, you can take steps to halt what could be illegal pilfering of your personal information.
What should I look for in my credit report?
It is important to frequently review your credit file to verify the following:
- Social Security number
- Date of Birth
- All accounts listed are your own
- Credit/Charge Accounts
- Outstanding balances/limits on the accounts
- Payment histories
- Derogatory credit information has been deleted after seven years (non-chapter 13 bankruptcies after 10 years)
How do I dispute inaccurate information?
Immediately contact the credit bureau that reported the inaccurate information (be sure to keep records of all correspondence, phone calls or e-mails). The bureau will then check with the original source. If this inaccuracy persists, add a statement to the credit report specifying why the item is wrong. This dispute process can take up to 30 days.
How long does it take for a closed account to be removed from my credit file?
The file will be updated in 30 to 60 days, but reportable information can remain for 7 to 15 years from date of the last activity.
About Credit Scores
What is a credit score? A credit score, calculated from variables in your credit report and other factors determined by the lending institution, is a rating tool used by lenders to gauge an individual’s creditworthiness.
What is the credit score range? Credit scores range from 350 to 850 – a higher number represents a stronger financial position.
What is a bad credit score? The average score in the US is approximately 680. Anything below a 680 is considered “sub-prime” and needs improvement. However, each of the three major credit bureaus records your score slightly different. In general, the higher your credit score, the better it is.
What is a good credit score? The average score is approximately 680. Credit scores in the mid 700’s to 800’s are the most desirable.
How does my credit score affect me? Credit scores, calculated from such information in your credit file as total debt, types of accounts, number of late payments, age of accounts, and number of inquiries, give lenders a subjective rating of your creditworthiness. Lenders then consider this rating when deciding whether or not to extend you credit. It’s in your best interest, therefore, to keep your credit as robust as possible so you can secure favorable rates and terms. If your credit score is low, you can often strengthen it by minimizing outstanding debt, avoiding overextension, and limiting new credit applications.
How often does my credit score change? Credit scores fluctuate as often as information in your credit file changes.
Do late payments affect my credit score? Late payments will negatively affect your score – paying your bills on time is the single most important contributor to a good credit score.
Do inquiries affect my credit score? It depends on the type of inquiry. Inquiries for marketing purposes do not affect your score. These include consumer requests for a credit report, lenders using credit information to review an account, or a potential employer looking over someone’s credit. Inquiries initiated by the consumer, such as mortgage, auto loan and credit card applications, however, do affect your score because studies have shown that too many are a red flag for credit risk. Inquiries do not weigh as heavily, however, as past payment history or number of delinquent accounts.
Does co-signing a loan affect my credit score? Any loan or credit card account affects your score.
About Non-Credit Reports
Identity thieves target their victims for different purposes: to borrow money fraudulently, to avoid having their real identity associated with crimes they commit, to commit bank fraud, to open new telephone and utility accounts, to acquire government benefits, or to take over existing accounts. The changing nature of this crime means consumers must seek more comprehensive solutions that provide true identity monitoring beyond credit reports. Mosaic expands the depth of protection for consumers by monitoring activity on short-term, high-interest payday and pawn shop loans that do not require credit checks. These debts seldom appear on a credit report and are commonly used by identity thieves.
It is best to use the phone number listed on your account statements or on the back of your credit card. In case you do not have access t that information, we have listed the contact information for some of the more common financial institutions:
Bank of America
Bank of New York
Chevron Gas Card
Fifth Third Bank
First PREMIER Bank
New Millennium Bank
Shell Gas Card
Identity Theft (Government)
- The Federal Trade Commission
- FTC Identity Theft Site
- ID Theft Affidavit (PDF)
- ID Theft Compliant Assistant
- Fair Credit Reporting Act
- United States Postal Inspection Service
- The National Fraud Information Center
Identity Theft (Non-Profit)
- Identity Theft Resource Center
- National Center for Victims of Crime
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
- The National White Collar Crime Center
- Identity Theft Prevention and Survival