Identity Theft

Printer-friendly version 

What Is Identity Theft

Identity theft is a crime, plain and simple. Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another persons' personal data in someway that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.

Unlike your fingerprints, which are unique to you and cannot be given to someone else for their use, your personal data-especially your Social Security number, your bank account or credit card number, your telephone calling card number, usernames/passwords and other valuable identifying data-can be used if they fall into the wrong hands to personally profit at your expense. 

What are the most common ways to commit identity theft or fraud?

A thief does not have to physically break into your home or car to steal you identity. In fact, they don't even have to know who or where you live to gain this knowledge. Although this is not a complete list, here are several ways that a thief can steal your identity.

Shoulder Surfing: Watching or listening to you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or give someone your credit card information, such as a hotel or car rental representative. Be aware of your surroundings!

Dumpster Diving: Retrieving information such as credit card statements, bank statements, phone records, copies of cancelled checks, and various other paper records from garbage cans or commercial dumpsters. These type of records make it easier for criminals to get control over accounts in your name and assume your identity. Shred or burn personal records you no longer need to retain, don't just throw them in the trash for others to look at later.

Also very important but often overlooked are the "pre-approved" credit card notices we all receive in the mail on a regular basis. Criminals can sometimes retrieve these applications, make the necessary address and phone number changes and apply for credit cards in your name. It is a good idea to tear the documents up before discarding them in the trash.

Internet: With the convenience and speed at which we can acquire information on the internet also comes a downside. You must not let your guard down and assume that emails your receive with your name or email address are legitimate. Never give out personal or financial information through your email. Email is not a secure transmission. If you must conduct business or purchase products online, make sure they are "secure" sites. Have the latest browser updates installed, which you can download from there websites at no charge. If you are not sure or are not comfortable with the process, don't do it.

If you use a computer at work, be aware that saving usernames and passwords automatically can give others access to important data that can lead to your identity be stolen. Log off when you walk away from your computer or letting someone else use your machine and don't check the "Save password" feature. May be inconvenient but can save you in the long run.

With enough identifying information about an individual, a criminal can take over that individual's identity to conduct a wide range of crimes. For example, false applications for loans and credit cards, fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards, or obtaining other goods or privileges which the criminal might be denied if he or she were to use their real names. If the criminal takes steps to ensure that bills for the falsely obtained credit cards, or bank statements showing the unauthorized withdrawals, are sent to another address, the victim may not become aware of what is happening until the criminal has already inflicted substantial damage on the victim's assets, credit, and reputation. 

If You Are A Victim of Identity Theft

If you are a victim of identity theft, your immediate actions, not the actions of law enforcement or prosecutors will determine the extent of your credit restoration. The following information is being made available through the Federal Trade Commission's booklet, ID Theft-When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name. If you click on the title you will be directed how to order your copy of the booklet or you can download a copy directly to your computer in the PDF format.

Please note that our office nor any law enforcement agency will be able to investigate or prosecute identity theft/fraud without a police report being on file. 

Your First Three Steps

First, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Request a "fraud alert" be placed in your file as well as a victim's statement asking the creditors call before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. 

Equifax 1-800-525-6285 
Experian 1-888-397-3742 
TransUnion 1-800-680-7289

Second, contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. You will need to speak with someone in the security or fraud department and then follow up that call with a letter. You must notify credit card companies in writing according to the consumer protection procedure. Also, immediately close accounts that have been tampered with & open up new ones with new Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) and passwords.

Third, file a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity took place. You need to get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card companies or others need proof of the crime.

Your swift response and actions are critical if you become a victim of ID theft. Logon to the Federal Trade Commission's website to find out more information and then order your copy of ID Theft, When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name.

« Return to the District Attorney's Department Page