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 SIU Credit Union as soon as you realize it has occurred. And visit the Federal Trade Commission identity theft Web site (ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/) to view a copy of its publication, “Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft.”