Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission. According to a US Bureau of Justice report published in December 2013, approximately 16.6 million people age 16 or older (7% of all US residents) were victims of one or more incidents of identity theft in 2012. Direct and indirect losses from identity theft that year totaled $24.7 billion.

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I'm an identity theft victim - what should I do?

    • Report the crime to the local law enforcement agency in the area where you live or where the crime occurred.
    • Place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit reports. Contact information and instructions for each credit bureau can be found on the Washington Attorney General’s website and the Federal Trade Commission’s website. The credit bureaus should send you copies of your credit reports free of charge once a fraud alert is confirmed. A security freeze prevents your credit file from being shared with potential creditors, helping to prevent new credit accounts from being opened. Individuals can later request that a freeze be temporarily lifted for the purpose of obtaining new credit. More information on the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert can be found here.
    • Contact businesses or financial institutions
    • Identity theft victims have the right under Washington law (RCW 9.35.040) and Federal law (15 U.S.C. § 1681g(e)) to obtain copies of records from businesses, etc., related to the fraudulent use of the victim’s identity. The Federal Trade Commission (citing Federal law) and the Washington Attorney General’s Office (citing Washington law) each provide sample letters (FTC link and WA AG link) for victims to request records from businesses. Both sample letters include language for a victim to authorize law enforcement to take receipt of the records should the victim wish to use it. Remember to include copies of applicable enclosures, depending on which law you cite to request the documents (information included in the links above).
    • Report identity theft or a suspected compromise of your personal information to the IRS to help protect your tax records.
    • Additional information and tips are available on the Washington Attorney General’s website and the Federal Trade Commission’s website
         

How was my information stolen?

    Mail Theft: Identity thieves often obtain banking, tax or medical information by stealing mail.
    Car Prowls/Burglary/Other Theft: The same documents stolen from the mail can be targeted by burglars. Stealing purses and wallets from shopping carts or during car prowls give identity thieves access to victims’ information as well.
    Dumpster Diving: Suspects rummage through trash looking for banking, tax or medical information that contains personal information.
    Electronic Data Breaches: Identity thieves may target individual victims with “phishing” emails, pretending to be a legitimate business emailing a customer to convince the victim to reveal personal information. Other times suspects hack into businesses’ systems to obtain information on large numbers of victims at once.

How do I know if my information has been stolen?

    • Bills or other mail fails to arrive when expected.
    • Unauthorized financial transactions occur.
    • Mail, email or calls about accounts that don’t belong to you are received.
    • There is unexpected information or a mistake on account statements, credit reports or medical records.
    • You receive letters or calls about purchases, accounts or jobs in your name.
    • Your legitimate request for credit is denied for no apparent reason.
    • The IRS notifies you that a tax return was already filed in your name or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
    • You receive notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a business that you use. 
        

How can I avoid identity theft?

    • Shred financial documents containing personal information after they’re no longer needed.
    • Carry only necessary documents and cards in your wallet or purse. Refrain from carrying your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport except when needed.
    • Keep personal information in a secured place at home. Be particularly cautious if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having work done in your home.
    • Guard mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail at the post office. Remove mail from home mailboxes as soon as possible. Consider a locking mailbox or a post office box for incoming mail. Many financial institutions will allow checks and debit cards to be sent to your local branch for pickup instead of mailed to your home.
    • Beware of unsolicited email, texts or phone messages asking for personal information. Delete these “phishing” messages. Do not return a call to a number given by a potential scammer; if you become concerned about an account, call the number listed on your credit/debit card or your statement.
    • Obtain a copy of your credit report at least once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Consumers are entitled to one free report from each bureau per year. Space out the requests over the year so that you request one report every 3-4 months. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com or visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website for additional contact information for the bureaus.
    • Opt out from pre-screened credit card offers, national direct mailing lists and telemarketing lists. Further information can be found on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
    • Take proper precautions if you access or use financial information online. Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software on computers. Create strong passwords and use different passwords for each account. If shopping or banking online make sure the website is encrypted (the web address will begin with “https”). Properly update operating systems, computer security and software. Always encrypt information sent over a public or open wireless network.

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