Identity Theft - Parkside Police Department, Parkside, Pennsylvania

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Identity Theft

1. Q. What is identity theft? [return to top of page]

A. - Identity theft is when someone possesses or uses your name, address, Social Security number (SSN), bank or credit card account number, or other identifying information without your knowledge with the intent to commit fraud or other crimes.

2. Q. - How can someone steal my identity? [return to top of page]

A. - Identity thieves may use a variety of low- and high-tech methods to gain access to your personally identifying information. For example:

  • They get information from businesses or institutions by:
    • stealing records from their employer,
    • bribing an employee who has access to the records,
    • conning information out of employees, or
    • hacking into the organization's computers.
  • They rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or dumps in a practice known as "dumpster diving."
  • They obtain credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to credit reports or by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legitimate need for and a legal right to the information.
  • They 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."
  • They steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
  • They steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information.
  • They complete a "change of address form" to divert mail to another location.
  • They steal personal information from your home.
  • They scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.

3. Q. - What are the consequences of identity theft? [return to top of page]

A. - Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may:

  • Go on spending sprees using your credit and debit card account numbers to buy "big-ticket" items like computers that they can easily sell.
  • Open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth and SSN. When they don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
  • Change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on the account. Because the bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there's a problem.
  • Take out auto loans in your name.
  • Establish phone or wireless service in your name.
  • Counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account.
  • Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
  • File for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred, or to avoid eviction.
  • Give your name to the police during an arrest. If they are released and don't show up for their court date, an arrest warrant could be issued in your name.

4. Q. - How can I tell if I'm a victim of identity theft? [return to top of page]
A. - If an identity thief is opening new credit accounts in your name, these accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. You can find out by ordering a copy of your credit reports. You are entitled to get your credit report free once a year. Check your report carefully to make sure it is accurate. If your personal information has been lost or stolen, you should check your reports more frequently for the first year. Also read your financial account statements promptly and look for any unauthorized debits or charges.

Stay alert for other signs of identity theft, like:

  • Failing to receive bills or other mail. Follow up with creditors if your bills don=t arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
  • Receiving credit cards that you didn’t apply for.
  • Being denied credit or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason.
  • Getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn’t buy.

Although any of these indications could be a result of a simple error, you should not assume that there's been a mistake and do nothing. Always follow up with the business or institution to find out.

5. Q. What is "pretexting" and how does it relate to identity theft? [return to top of page]

A. - Pretexting is the practice of getting your personal information under false pretenses. Pretexters sell your information to people who may use it to get credit in your name, steal your assets, or to investigate or sue you. Pretexting is against the law.

Pretexters use a variety of tactics to get your personal information. For example, a pretexter may call, claim he's from a survey firm, and ask you a few questions. When the pretexter has the information he wants, he uses it to call your financial institution. He pretends to be you or someone with authorized access to your account. He might claim that he's forgotten his checkbook and needs information about his account. In this way, the pretexter may be able to obtain personal information about you such as your SSN, bank and credit card account numbers, information in your credit report, and the existence and size of your savings and investment portfolios.

Keep in mind that some information about you may be a matter of public record, such as whether you own a home, pay your real estate taxes, or have ever filed for bankruptcy. It is not pretexting for another person to collect this kind of information.

By law, it's illegal for anyone to:

  • Use false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or documents to get customer information from a financial institution or directly from a customer of a financial institution.
  • Use forged, counterfeit, lost, or stolen documents to get customer information from a financial institution or directly from a customer of a financial institution.
  • Ask another person to get someone else's customer information using false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or using false, fictitious or fraudulent documents or forged, counterfeit, lost, or stolen documents.
  • All Costs are at your expense, and are not controlled by the Police Department. The tow company sets the tow and storage fee.


6. Q. How long can identity theft problems go on? [return to top of page]

A. - It's difficult to predict how long the effects of identity theft may linger. That's because it depends on many factors including the type of theft, whether the thief sold or passed your information on to other thieves, whether the thief is caught, and problems related to correcting your credit report.

Victims of identity theft should monitor their credit reports and other financial records for several months after they discover the crime. Credit reports should be checked once every three months in the first year of the theft, and once a year thereafter. Keep alert for other signs of identity theft.

Victims should not delay in correcting their records and contacting all companies that opened fraudulent accounts. The longer the inaccurate information goes uncorrected, the longer it will take to resolve the problem.


7. Q. Should I use a credit monitoring service? [return to top of page]
A variety of commercial services are available, for a fee, that will monitor your credit reports for activity and alert you to changes; prices and services vary widely. Many of the services only monitor one of the three major credit bureaus. As with any product or service, make sure you understand what you're getting before you buy. Also, check out any company you're not familiar with before doing business with them. Contact your local consumer protection agency or the Better Business Bureau to find out if they have any complaints on file.

8. Q. If you think your identity has been stolen, this is what you should do... [return to top of page]
Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file. The fraud alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts. Once the alert is placed, you may order a free copy of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus.
Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
File your complaint with the FTC. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps us learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that we can better assist you.
9. Identity Theft Related Information [return to top of page]

For more in-depth information on recovering from identity theft and help with specific problems, read:
Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft.

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