What Is Identity Theft?
North Carolina General Statue 14-113.20, "Financial Identity Fraud," makes it a felony to knowingly obtain, possess, or use the identifying information of another person with the intent to fraudulently represent that person for the purposes of making financial transactions or avoiding legal consequences. Your “identifying information” includes items such as Social Security number, driver’s license number, and banking and credit account numbers.
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing areas of crime in history. According to the NC Attorney General’s Office, 286,000 North Carolinians are victims of identity theft each year. A typical victim spends on average $800 and 175 hours over 23 months to clean up his or her credit. These numbers are growing every year. In 2003, ID theft cost US businesses $47.6 billion.
What can you do to prevent identity theft?
Take these common sense measures:
- Identity information is frequently stolen from your mailbox or from your trash. Get to know your neighbors so you can watch out for each other’s interests. Often the criminals who steal this information do so in broad daylight in suburban neighborhoods.
- When ordering new checks, have them sent to your bank and pick them up there. If you have a locking post office box, you may also choose to have them sent there. Sometimes victims of identity theft receive a letter or notice indicating that they have a bank or credit account that they know they don’t have. The person may throw it away or ignore it, only to discover months or years later that their credit is ruined. If you receive such mail, call the financial institution to inquire about the account.
- When you are disposing old documents, especially personal or financial documents, shred them or tear them into little pieces before you place them in the garbage. For extra security, throw out used coffee grounds and food scraps on top of the documents.
- When conducting business over the Internet, be careful who you send your credit card information to. Never give any information to anyone who contacts you. If you initiate the contact and are doing business with a legitimate business, you will reduce your risk of becoming a victim.
- Think twice before using a debit card. Most debit cards have no security features; if the number gets out and a criminal empties your bank account, you suffer the entire loss. The same rule applies to using your checking account number. If your credit card number (or the credit card itself) is stolen, you likely will have some protection offered by the credit card company.
- If you like the convenience of using a debit card at places like the grocery store, consider using an ATM card instead. The ATM card requires an access code (PIN), which provides some measure of protection. Never share your PIN and don’t write it down anywhere near the card.
- If someone calls and asks for personal information, or tries to “confirm” your personal information, be suspicious. Never volunteer your information. Remember that the Shelby Police Department will never call you asking for money to assist us in investigating a case. Neither will your bank.
- The more activity that takes place under your name, the longer it may take to clear it up. Check your personal credit history every year or so. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus annually. The three major credit bureaus are:
- Equifax, Telephone No. 1-888-766-0008
- Experian, Telephone No. 1-888-397-3742
- Trans Union, Telephone No. 1-800-680-7289.
- If there has been unauthorized activity in your name, place an alert on your personal credit history. Making an alert with one of the three major credit bureaus should be sufficient. Once the complaint is made, they communicate with each other to ensure that the alert is filed.
Reporting Identity Theft
If you discover that you are the victim of identity theft, here are some things you can do. First, collect yourself. It is infuriating, frightening, and intimidating to have your good name used to commit crimes. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by collection agencies. If they harass and pressure you, refer them to the police agency where you have filed your report. It’s not your responsibility to pay for the damage done by a criminal who has stolen your identity.
Start a folder for your records. If the crime occurred within the City of Shelby, call 704-484-6845 to file a police report. As you begin to deal with the damage to your credit, collectors and creditors will ask for the case number from the police report.
If you have access to a computer, create a standard letter indicating that your identity was stolen and list the police case number on your letter. Use this document to respond, in writing, to various businesses where your name may have been used. You can make the letter generic and amend it as necessary to reflect the name of the specific business where you are sending it.
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