Identity Fraud Primer: Your Questions Answered


Identity Fraud

Credit card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Identity Fraud Primer

Questions about identity fraud are persistent enough that I thought it was time to review identity fraud and organize the information about it that all consumers need to know.  For that reason this Essay will be a little longer than most of my columns and observations.  My aim is to turn over the rocks and let the sun shine in on identity fraud.  Identity fraud is a rather depressing fact of life.

Special thanks to the dedicated professionals offering consumer credit counseling services at for permission to reprint portions of their fine publication “Your Credit Report Reference Guide” for use in this article.

Types of Identity Fraud

Identity fraud can be divided into 3 types:

  • Financial:  A thief opens a line of credit in the victim’s name.
  • Criminal:  A thief uses the victim’s name in a criminal violation whether traffic or otherwise.
  • Identity cloning:  A thief creates a whole new identity using the victim’s information

How Identity Fraud Thieves get Their Information

There are at least 10 ways for thieves to learn your intimate financial information:

  1. Stealing pre-approved credit card applications from mailboxes or dumpsters.
  2. Raiding trash dumpsters for discarded receipts and files.
  3. Completing change of address forms so that your bills will be sent to a different address.
  4. Obtaining credit reports by posing as a landlord or employer.
  5. Using personal information found in your home.
  6. Obtaining information on the internet.
  7. Posing as a legitimate company through the mail or over the phone and asking for your information.
  8. Posing as repairmen, plumbers, cable installers, etc. to gain access to your home.
  9. Accessing personnel and payroll information.
  10. Taking mail and billing/account information from your mailbox.

Identity Fraud Thieves Common Practices

A common practice for thieves is to change mailing address information so you won’t receive your bills and are unaware of the fraud.  Accounts can then be opened in your name and balances rung up while the bills are unpaid.   Thieves may establish telephone and cellular service in your name as well.  Other fraudulent activities can consist of opening bank accounts and writing bad checks, taking out auto loans, filing for bankruptcy and giving your name to police during an arrest or traffic violation.

Consumers are scammed by:

  • telephone fraud:  Unauthorized charging of long distance calls and billing for unauthorized services.
  • direct mail and mail order scams:  undeliverable and unordered goods.
  • telemarketing:  advance fee loans, lottery cons, pyramid schemes and phony investments.
  • scholarship scams:  money back guarantee pitches for help with college applications and financial aid.
  • internet scams:  phony auctions, credit card fraud, make-money-from-home offers, misleading rebates.
  • travel scams:  inexpensive holiday and spring break packages.
  • motor vehicle sales and repair scams:  unnecessary repairs, misrepresentation, “free” service inspections, and
  • credit repair scams: offers to clean up your credit and deceptive marketing of bill consolidation, credit card balance reductions and loan.
Minimizing Your Risk for Identity Fraud
  • Find out how information will be used before revealing it.
  • Pay attention to billing cycles.  If you don’t receive a bill, call your creditor.
  • Deposit outgoing mail in a collection box or at the post office.
  • Use passwords on your accounts.  Avoid using your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, your social security number or any other series of numbers that would be easy for someone to guess.
  • Photocopy the contents of your wallet, keep the copies in a safe place and carry as little identifying data as you can in your wallet.
  • Do not give your personal information over the telephone, the internet or by mail unless you already know with whom you are dealing.
  • Keep personal information in a safe place.
  • Reduce the number of credit cards you use.
  • The next time you order checks have only your first initial and last name put on them.  A thief does not know how you sign your name, but the bank does.
  • Never write your social security number on documents such as personal checks for identification purposes.
  • Order copies of your credit reports every year.
  • Shred copes of your bank and credit card statements.
  • Be cautious of emails that are unsolicited or from an unknown source.
  • Be sure that you save internet sites with the URL of https:// before sending personal information.
  • Ensure you have a good firewall on your computer to prevent outside access by a hacker.
If You are a Victim of Identity Fraud….
  • Contact the fraud division of one of the 3 major credit reporting agencies and tell them you are a victim or suspect you are a victim of identity fraud.  Order copies of your credit reports and place a fraud alert on your credit file.  Once you have notified one credit bureau they will notify the other 2.  Once a fraud alert has been placed a consumer can provide a contact telephone number on their file.  Creditors and/or lenders can contact the consumer directly to verify any purchases,charges or other transactions that have been reported.
  • Contact your creditors to close any accounts that have been compromised or opened fraudulently.  Open new accounts with personal identification numbers.
  • File a report with your local police department. The FTC advises that if the police are reticent to take your report, ask to file a miscellaneous incidents report or try another jurisdiction such as your state police or Attorney General consumer protection unit. Ask for copies of that report and carry these reports with you until the issue has been resolved.
  • Contact the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at 877.IDtheft (877.438.4338) to file a complaint.
  • If you think the mail was involved contact your local US Postal Service Inspection Office.

Get a notebook and start writing down everything you do.  Be like Joe Friday on Dragnet “Just the facts ma’am”.  In this case the facts are names, badge numbers, phone numbers, names of supervisors and so on.  Documentation is very important.  This time it’s your turn to be a detail oriented pain in officialdom’s posterior.

And now for the good news:

Your liability on stolen credit card accounts is relatively low…only $50.00.  You still need to contact your creditors quickly to prevent them from creating even a bigger loss for the credit card company.  For ATM and debit cards your maximum liability is $50.00 if you report the loss within 48 hours of noticing it.  It can be $500.00 or even unlimited liability (including any overdraft protection) if you wait too long.


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After practicing law for 37 years Edward F. St. Onge, Sr. now devotes all his time to helping consumers achieve a high credit score with amazing speed. Learn the counter-intuitive secrets to credit scoring through his down to earth instructions backed by extensive knowledge of the laws and trends. All of the latest tricks and techniques that they don't want you to know now at your disposal. At last a level playing field for the consumer!

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