Protect yourself against Identity Theft
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States.
California law already includes many protections for consumers; however, more is always needed as criminals find new ways to take advantage of the vulnerable.
In recent years, the Legislature has held public hearings reporting the damage identity theft can have on its victims. In fact, last year, there were over 30 measures introduced to deal with eliminating identity theft including one to quicken the resolution process for identity theft that will became law in January, 2017.
Quick Tips on Identity Theft
- Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Credit cards, driver's licenses, social security numbers and other personal identification markers can net criminals thousands of dollars in a very short period of time.
- Identity theft statistics account for a significant amount of fraud complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Millions of people have been victims of identity theft, with the resulting costs amounting to approximately $37 billion.
- It can take months or even years before the ID theft is uncovered and many victims report spending countless hours convincing creditors, credit agencies, government agencies and others that transactions are fraudulent and should be purged from their files. This damage to victims' credit history and reputation can result in denial of credit for things such as auto and home loans.
- California law already protects consumers from risky practices such as having their information sold to third parties, penalties for possession or use of a device designed to scan or re-encode information from or to the magnetic strip of a payment card for the purpose of fraud, and the ability for consumers to have his or her name removed from any list provided by a credit bureau to another entity for credit offers he or she did not solicit.
- In 2016 the California Legislature introduced over 30 measures about this issue, including one to quicken the resolution process for identity theft victims which became law at the beginning of 2017.
- Strategies for managing your risk include determining how each bit of information you reveal to a third party will be used before you hand it over. Ask if you have a choice about the use of your information. Can you choose to have it kept confidential? Request a copy of all company privacy policies for businesses that you have dealings with both on-and-offline.
- Pay close attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know who you're dealing with.
- Keep items with personal information in a safe place. To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail.
- Check your computer for software or programs for viruses that can steal information off your computer. There are software programs, often free, that can help you detect such programs.
- Make sure you constantly monitor your credit and watch for changes that don't reflect your spending behavior. A free annual credit report is available at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. This website is set up by the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian), and provides valuable information of which you should be aware.
Finally, if you do find yourself a victim of fraud, there is hope. The California Attorney General's Office has outlined procedures that will help you restore your good name. They can be found at https://oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/top-ten. Recommendations include reporting the fraud to the aforementioned credit bureaus, filing a police report, contesting bills, and contacting creditors.