I. Overview of Topic
Without doubt, the best protection against Internet identity theft (and other types of such theft) is identity theft prevention.
There was an article in USA Today recently about an identity theft ring
that got nabbed, thanks to a suspicious WalMart employee.
This ring had hacked into Marshall Department Store's main computer and
stolen thousands of credit card numbers. The ring members then traveled
throughout Florida using these stolen credit card numbers to charge
high-value merchandise at stores like Walmart.
They then sold the merchandise to "fences," or even more brazenly,
returned the merchandise to the stores for a cash refund. A WalMart clerk
got suspicious and called store security, which contacted police.
So if you've ever shopped at Marshall's you could have found yourself with
a credit card bill for many thousands of dollars of merchandise you never
purchased. What a headache! True, you wouldn't be legally responsible
for those fraudulent purchases, but your credit record would be quite a
mess for quite a long time.
Clearly -- despite some recent legislation -- identity theft -- especially Internet identity theft -- is the crime
that's probably most likely to happen to you. It's just too easy for
crooks to get hold of credit card numbers and social security numbers
these days. In this report I'll briefly discuss how identity theft
happens, what to do if it happens to you, and also mention a few important
Definition of Internet Identity Theft
Of course, identity theft doesn't really mean somebody steals your
identity and then goes off to a faraway place and lives his/her life
impersonating you. It could mean that, but that is extremely rare.
Generally, it just means somebody runs up bills using your credit card or
credit rating. Sometimes a lot of bills. There have even been cases of
identity thieves taking out house mortgages under somebody else's name,
then flipping (re-selling) the house.
Types of Identity Thieves
There are two types, namely identity theft rings and individual identity
Identity theft rings are like little Mafias with a boss and a group of
underlings who do the more risky tasks, such as setting up charge accounts
and going into retail stores to buy merchandise using phony credit cards.
(Many rings manufacture valid-appearing credit cards, or they hire
specialists to do it for them.)
Typically identity theft rings utilize hit-and-run tactics, working in a
given location for a few months then disappearing.
The other type of identity thief is the individual who is trying to
improve his/her standard of living by credit card fraud. Usually, the
individual identity thief will not make quite as much of a train-wreck of
your credit standing as the identity theft ring, but even so you may find
yourself spending many hours trying to fix it.
Naturally, both types of identity thieves -- the rings and the individuals
-- tend to target high-income individuals. Anyone with an expensive home,
car, or high-paying job is a more-likely target. Unfortunately, your
social security number can be almost as easy to get these days as your
phone number. All a crook needs is an account with an information broker
on the Internet and your name and address. Then, given your social
security number and a little additional information like your date of
birth (which is also pretty easy to find online), the identity thief can
set up all kinds of charge accounts in your name, arranging to have the
bills sent to a phony address so that it will take longer for you to catch
on to what's happening.
Of course, not all Internet identity theft stems from online information brokers
giving out social security numbers. In fact experts say only a small
fraction of it does. More often, thieves steal credit card
numbers, like the ring that I mentioned above which operated in Florida.
On a smaller scale, a thief working as a waiter or clerk may steal your
credit card number or possibly your whole purse or wallet.
At any rate, it can escalate from a major nuisance to a major crisis if
the identity thief commits a crime while impersonating you, possibly by
means of a fake driver's license or other forged document. Should he/she
be charged and then fail to appear in court, you could be arrested and charged with the
crime or other offense.
What To Do If Internet Identity Theft Happens To You
If you find yourself with bills for merchandise/services you didn't buy,
or a call from a merchant complaining about a bill you didn't pay for
something you didn't order, you're probably facing identity theft. Here's
the process you should follow. (Note: You might also wish to read the
FTC's webpage on this
First, gather as much information as you can from the merchant, such as
when the purchase took place, type of credit used (credit line or credit
card), account number, monetary amount, where the bills were sent, and if
a credit application was filled out (if so, get a copy of it). Explain to
the merchant that you've been a victim of identity theft -- use that term,
"identity theft" -- and request that he not report the bill to the credit
bureau in your name.
Second, call a credit bureau and put a fraud alert on your credit
reports. This prevents the identity thief from opening more accounts in
your name. You only need to contact one of the three credit bureaus to
place an alert, as whichever one you notify will then alert the other two
as well. The credit bureaus are:
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Have the credit bureau representative mail you a copy of your credit
report (this should be free). Then go through it carefully and look for
fraudulent charges. Close all accounts you think have been tampered with
and write a letter to those merchants explaining that you have been a
victim of identity theft. (Note: don't mail the letters yet; you should
enclose a copy of your police report; see below.)
Third, take your credit report to your local police department and file a
formal police report. Keep this report with you in case you ever find
yourself charged with a crime committed by the identity thief. By the
way, if your local police department tells you they don't accept reports
for identity theft tell them you wish to file a "Miscellaneous Incidents"
report. Alternatively you can file your report with the State Police.
Fourth, visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles and inform them that
you have been a victim of identity theft or. Ask to obtain a new drivers
license with a new drivers license number.
Fifth, attempt to determine if there are any currently pending civil or
criminal actions against you. I suggest using online service US Search.com as a quick, reliable source for this type of information. If you
do find court judgments against you write a letter to the court explaining
that you have been victimized by an identity thief (enclosing a copy of
your police report) and ask that the judgment be vacated.
Sixth, contact the U.S. State Department (again, including a copy of your
police report) and request that they confirm that a passport has not been
recently issued in your name. If one has, ask that it be canceled
immediately. The address to write to is:
Department Attn: Passport Services
St., NW, Ste. 500
Washington DC 20522
Identity Theft Prevention
Unfortunately, there's no surefire way to completely protect yourself
against identity theft -- 100% identity theft prevention doesn't exist -- but there are some things you can do to make it
less likely you'll be targeted.
- -Make your social security number a little harder for identity thieves to
obtain. As said, identity thieves can easily obtain your SSN if they know
your name and address. So why not make it harder for them to get your
address in the first place? You can do this by using a post office box
number on all credit applications and other types of forms which will
become public information, such as registration records.
- -Also, try to keep your telephone number out of general circulation. Why?
Because once somebody knows your phone number, they can use a "reverse
directory" on the Internet to easily obtain your home address.
- -Use personal checks only for by-mail bill paying, never for day-to-day,
in-person purchases. Your personal checks contain identifying information
about your bank account plus your personal signature. It's much safer to
use a credit card or debit card.
- -Get removed from "pre-screening" programs (marketing services offered by
the three credit bureaus). Whenever you get a credit card offer in the
mail, for example, it's because your name and address appeared on a
pre-screening list, which contains only credit-worthy individuals. But
these lists are commonly used by identity theft rings to target potential
victims. To be removed from such lists of all major credit bureaus, call
888-567-8688 and inform the clerk that you wish to be removed from all
That's it - our ten minutes are up! (OK, maybe twelve or thirteen.) Below is a listing of Web resources to help you
continue your research on Internet identity theft.
II. For Additional Research
This Section provides reviews and recommendations of Web sites and other
If there's ever been a time to spend a few dollars a month on an Internet identity theft
prevention service, this is the time. There are now numerous such
services available online, however, the one that
stands out as offering the best protection (and also, oddly enough,
has the lowest cost) is TrustedID. This company,
TrustedID, offers a very comprehensive array of identity-theft prevention services -- you get a lot
more for your money here, in my opinion, than with competing services, such
as those offered by Equifax and TransUnion (which are basically just
credit-report monitoring services).
TrustedID , through its flagship product IDFreeze, gives you --
- Lender Double Check, which tells credit granters to double check your
identity via telephone or mail before granting credit in your name. (You
can turn this on or off at will.)
- Credit Lock, which allows you to direct the three credit bureaus to
only release their credit reports to third parties with your permission.
- Credit Card Monitoring, which monitors your credit card numbers to
ensure your information has not been stolen.
- Credit Card Opt out, which removes your name from credit bureau
- $1,000,000 Identity Protection Insurance, which provides up to
$1,000,000 of insurance to cover out-of-pocket costs associated with
identity theft (not available in New York).
- Live Identity Restoration Specialists, which provides real people you
can talk to and get advice from if you become a victim of identity theft.
- Credit Report Evaluation, which reviews your credit history to ensure
your identity has not been stolen.
The cost is $12.95 a month and it seems like a good deal to me. I've
signed up for it myself. To learn more go to the
Related Web Search Guides
Other Web Search Guides you may find useful: