Identity and Theft Prevention


Identity Theft....What Is It?

Identity theft is a type of consumer fraud that occurs when a person steals or assumes another person's identity for monetary or criminal purposes. Identity thieves will achieve this by obtaining and collecting vital personal information about their victims....usually social security numbers, birth dates, and credit card/bank account numbers. The thieves then use this information to obtain driver's licenses, state identification cards, credit cards, bank accounts and other legal documents under their victim's names.....but...illegally.... for their own benefit. In fact, identity thieves have been known to even fraudulently buy cars, houses, and get married under their newly acquired stolen names.

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Am I a Victim of Identity Theft?

Unfortunately.....many consumers don't realize they are victims of identity theft until they are embarrassingly denied for credit, or are contacted by unfamiliar creditors looking for payment on debts that the thieves have run up.

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What Is My Best Defense?

To avoid becoming a victim....periodically check your credit with the three big credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian (see below for contact information). If your credit report shows bogus or unfamiliar accounts, or even applications for credit that you don't remember making, there is a chance you are a victim of identity theft. Also, don't give anyone information about you. Scam artists are "artists" for a reason. They sound and act like good, honest citizens....but they are not. Stay suspicious. Keep your guard up. Don't give out information over the internet...no matter how legitimate the email you receive may seem. Basically....smarten up...or you will be taken advantage of.

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Am I Liable for Debts Identity Thieves Run Up in My Name?

Federal Credit Fraud Law protects consumers in some of these situations. It says that Creditors who wrongly extend credit to identity thieves are responsible for collecting these debts from the identity thief who duped them. Many times, creditors will write-off the loss for lack of their ability to collect. However... being careful is better than having to deal with the problem once it arises. Even if identity theft does not cause you money....you will worry yourself to death trying to get things straightened out after the theft occurs...and likely...you will never get things completely straightened out, especially on your credit record. So....be careful and keep a close watch on things.

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What do I do if I'm a Victim?

If you discover that you're a victim of identity theft, there are several mandatory steps that you need to take:

  1. Report the Crime-File a Police Report: File a Police Report with your local police and keep a copy for yourself. This will make your case easier to prove to creditors and to clear your name.
  2. File a Complaint: The governmental agency that investigates identity theft is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Contact the FTC to report your crime at 877-ID-THEFT or
  3. www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

  4. Notify the Credit Bureaus: Contact the three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion (1-800-680-7289), Equifax (1-800-525-6285), and Experian (1-888-EXPERIAN). Ask the agencies to have your account flagged with a fraud alert. This requires merchants to seek your explicit verbal or written approval before granting any new credit in your name. On the internet, you can also visit the websites for these 3 credit reporting agencies for more information on what to do.
  5. Close Accounts and Notify your Banks, Creditors and Utilities: This is a total pain, but you have no choice. Close down all your accounts that have been used by thieves. Also, change all passwords and PINs for your accounts even if they were unaffected. Notify all your existing creditors and let them know about your situation.
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Identity Theft and Bankruptcy

Supposedly....seven million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2002, and it is the Nation's fastest-growing financial crime. Because of the volume at which the crime has occurred in the past and will continue to in the future, not all identity theft disputes will be adequately resolved for the consumer-victim. This will mean those fraudulent debts will go unpaid and the consumer will be subject to collection activity.

So....what can you do? If you find yourself to be a victim, Bankruptcy may be your best course of action. Chapters 7 & 13 can eliminate the "fraudulent" debt run up in your name....without having to dispute whether or not you were the one who actually incurred the debt. At the same time, the bankruptcy will eliminate some or all of your own debt, and get you the fresh start you are looking for.

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