Identity Theft: Reduce Your Risk - WBAY

Identity Theft: Reduce Your Risk

Half a million Americans are victims of identity theft every year, according to the Wisconsin Attorney General. Usually it involves someone making purchases on someone else's credit card. In extreme cases, thieves have used a person's identifying information to obtain checking accounts, credit cards, car loans, even mortgages in someone else's name-- and at someone else's expense.

Until 1998, there were no specific laws against identity theft. Now in Wisconsin it can be punishable by up to ten years in prison, and it can also be a federal crime. There are many ways criminals can get identifying information, which means there are also many ways to stop them.

How to reduce your risk of identity theft

  • Before you reveal any personal information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others
  • Protect your mail from theft. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered; do not leave outgoing mail in your mailbox, take it to a blue U.S. Postal Service mailbox; if you're traveling, have a trusted friend or neighbor collect your mail
  • Pay attention to when bills and monthly bank statements arrive, and follow up with creditors or your bank if they don't seem to arrive on time
  • Review bills for what appear to be unauthorized charges
  • Reduce the identity information and the number of cards you carry (ID, credit, library, etc.) to what you actually need
  • Do not give out personal information-- including credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, your mother's maiden name, or your bank PIN number-- over the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you initiated the contact or know the company (legitimate companies, utilities, and financial institutions will not contact you to seek such information)
  • Do not put your Social Security number on checks
  • Always take credit card and ATM receipts with you and dispose of them properly and securely
  • Shred papers with personal information, such as bills and receipts, before recycling them (small and inexpensive wastebasket shredders can be found at office supply stores)
  • Keep items with personal information in a safe place
  • Check your credit report regularly

If You become a Victim

  • Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus:
    Equifax 1-800-525-6285
    Experian 1-888-397-3742
    Trans Union 1-800-680-7289
  • Contact the creditors or financial institutions for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently
  • File a report with your local police or the police deprtment where the identity theft took place
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-ID THEFT (1-877-438-4338)

Sources: Attorney General James Doyle; Wisconsin Bankers Assocation; U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division Fraud Section

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