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Preventing Identity Theft
Armed with little more than the name, address, birth date, and Social Security number of a completely unknowing person, thieves are illegally obtaining credit cards and access to checking accounts. Others use their newfound identities to apply for employment, an auto loan, or a driver's license or even to commit a serious crime. Worse, that unknowing person might be you.
Consumer advocacy groups, such as the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, are receiving an increasing number of requests for help from victims of a crime that most law enforcement officials call identity theft.
For victims, the nightmare might begin when someone steals a wallet or check. Or when someone pilfers financial or other records with identifying information from a trash can. Or it might occur when the perpetrator legally obtains credit bureau records while working for a credit grantor (a financial institution, auto dealer, insurance company).
The lengthy process victims endure to untangle the web of fraud is draining both financially and psychologically.
So, what have you got to lose?
- Access to credit. A bad credit rating can virtually prohibit you from getting a credit card or any type of loan.
- Use of your checking account funds. You're likely to show up as a bad risk on retailer's check verification systems.
- Employment opportunities. A damaged credit report or driving record could take you out of the job market.
- Work time. With passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, victims finally have a federal law that gives them the right to file police reports and recoup damages. But it takes time to be persistent and assertive in clearing their names.
- Money. Costs can mount when you retain the services of legal counsel.
Report any suspected identity theft to People's Credit Union as soon as you realize it has occurred. Visit the Federal Trade Commission's interactive site for recovering from identity theft.
Protect your financial identity
It only takes a few seconds to become a victim of financial fraud. But it often takes months to recover.
Armed with discarded credit card receipts, checks, or deposit slips, today's crooks are making unauthorized transactions from victims' accounts, and even opening new--fraudulent--credit card and checking accounts.
There are steps you can take to prevent your identity from theft.
Examine all your financial statements
Promptly reconcile your monthly share draft account statement. Save check stubs and credit, debit, and ATM (automated teller machine) receipts. Report discrepancies between your records and monthly statements to the appropriate company. Check credit bureau reports at least once a year.
Limit the paper trail
Store receipts and share draft carbons in a safe place. Or rip them up, especially areas where account numbers are visible. Destroy blank checks from closed-out accounts and expired or unused credit cards. And tear up any credit card receipt carbons.
Guard your purse or wallet
Thieves often target unoccupied vehicles, unlocked office drawers, and health club locker rooms.
Protect your PIN
Never keep your ATM PIN in the same place as your card.
Beware of phone scams
Never give your PIN or any other personal financial information to an unknown caller.
Check your mail
If you haven't received mail for a few days, you may be the victim of mail diversion fraud. This scam involves a crook forging an individual's signature on a change-of-address form to divert your mail and obtain financial information. If you suspect your address has been changed without your permission, contact the post office.
Track financial statements
Find out when financial statements and plastic cards are due to arrive. If they're late, contact your credit union or appropriate issuer.
Protect yourself online
New technology allows online vendors to assure customers reasonable security from online theft. If you doubt the security of the vendor, order the items over the telephone.
Visit the Federal Trade Commission's interactive site for recovering from identity theft here.
Are relatives using your identity?
The numbers are staggering. Almost 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2008, according to the Javelin Strategy and Research 2009 Identity Fraud Survey Report. Even more shocking is the number of thefts by relatives. Of the victims who knew how their information was accessed, 13% said a family member, friend, or acquaintance was responsible.
Financial experts say parents who destroy their own finances increasingly are tempted to "borrow" their children's good credit. As co-signers, all they need is a birth date and Social Security number, information they either know or have easy access to.
Other family "thieves" include children, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Unfortunately, the only options for victims of familial credit abuse are paying off the debt in large chunks or filing a complaint that could send your relative to jail.
Experts recommend you order a copy of your credit report annually at annualcreditreport.com from each of the "big three" credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. Victims should request that a red flag be placed in their file to help prevent anyone else from opening fraudulent accounts.
For more information please visit the Your Credit Score section of our web site.