Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, affecting on the average of 500,000 new victims each year, for the past decade. The Secret Service says that victims and institutions in its identity-fraud investigations lost more than $3 billion between 1998 and 2002.
Identity theft occurs when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge to establish a parallel identity. This allows them to pretend to be you to open bank accounts and apply for loans, for example, and you may not know it is happening for months or years. The impostors don’t pay the bills and you are left with a disastrous credit report.
How to prevent theft:
- Shred all important papers and all correspondence with your name and/or address on it.
- Be careful of “shoulder surfing” at ATMs and at phone booths when using phone cards.
- Do not put checks in the mail at your home mailbox.
- Cancel all credit cards that you do not use or have not used in six months.
- Put passwords on all accounts.
- Memorize Social Security numbers and passwords. Do not carry your Social Security card.
- Do not put your Social Security number on checks or credit receipts.
- Do not put phone numbers on checks.
- Do not put your credit card numbers on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secured site.
- Monitor all bank statements for every credit card every month.
- Order a credit report at least yearly and review it carefully. Immediately correct any mistakes on your report in writing.
- Make a list of all your credit card account numbers and bank account numbers and keep them in a safe place.
- Always take credit card receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container.
- If you receive an e-mail request that appears to be from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) stating that your “account information needs to be updated” or that “the credit card you signed up with is invalid or expired and the information needs to be reentered to keep your account active,” do not respond without checking with your ISP.
What to do:
- Report the crime to the local police
- Immediately call all credit card issuers and get replacement cards with new account numbers.
- Call the fraud units of the three credit reporting companies: Experian (888-397-3742), Equifax (800-525-6285), and Trans Union (800-680-7289). Ask for your account to be flagged, and add a victim’s statement to the report. You also can contact the National Fraud Information Center (800-876-7060) for step-by-step instructions on how to proceed.
- Notify your bank of the theft. Get a new ATM card with a new account number and password.
- Contact the Social Security Administration (800-269-0271).
- Report fraudulent checks to: Telecheck (800-710-9898), National Processing Co. (800-526-5380), or Equifax (800-437-5120).
In identity-theft cases, the victim often has to prove his or her innocence. The burden remains on victims to straighten out the credit mess the imposter has made.
Victims of credit and banking fraud will be usually be liable for no more than the first $50 of the loss (15 USC 1643). However, the victim must notify financial institutions within two days of learning of the loss.
Even though the victims may not be liable for the imposter’s bill, they often are left with a bad credit report and have to spend months, or even years, regaining their financial health.
In 1998, when Congress made identity theft a federal crime, it directed the Federal Trade Commission to establish a clearinghouse for identity-theft complaints and assistance. The clearinghouse’s Web site (www.consumer.gov/idtheft) and the counselors who staff the FTC’s toll-free hotline (877-438-4338) will provide assistance on what steps to take if you become a victim of identity theft.
Click here to go to the Federal Trade Commission website to learn more helpful ways to deter, detect and defend against identity theft.
A Biblical Perspective:
Victims of identity theft often report feeling that they are somehow to blame. They also can feel violated, even powerless, due to the fact that few, if any, of the authorities who have been notified of the crime step forward to help the victim. Victims may feel like they are trapped and have lost any sense of freedom with their finances.
Financial freedom comes from knowing that God is in control. What a relief it is to turn our burdens over to Him. If we becomes victims of identity theft, we can say, “Father, I gave my credit to You; I’ve been, to the best of my ability, a good steward of that credit. It belongs to you, so do with it whatever You would like.” Then look for the blessings God has promised.
The first tangible way we can turn our burdens over to the Lord is through transferring ownership of every possession to God- money, material possessions, family etc. This puts us in the position as a manager of God’s possessions rather than an owner of what perceive are our possessions. As we transfer ownership to the Lord we will have a greater opportunity to experience God’s provision and plan for our lives.