Colorado ranks sixth in the country for the highest number of victims of identity theft. According to John Suthers, Colorado’s Attorney General, this situation is directly related to the high number of money-desperate methamphetamine users in this state.
Identity thieves look for driver’s license information, social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank and investment account numbers. They look for family information that many use as passwords. They use this information to empty accounts, apply for credit in your name and run up credit charges.
Statistics show that people between the ages of 18 and 29 are the most likely to become victims of identity theft. This may be because young people are less careful when it comes to protecting their credit cards and financial paperwork from misuse. I know a lot of older adults who keep a paper shredder in their home next to where they open their mail. I surveyed a sample of CSU students and didn’t find one that owns a paper shredder. I did find students who tear up account statements before throwing them away.
The most common means for stealing identity are dumpster diving and stealing from mail boxes. The solution is to make sure you have a locked mailbox and get a shredder. An alternative is to collect sensitive paperwork into a bag and take it to a commercial shredder. That costs you only about two bucks per large bag.
Thieves will also try to steal your purse or wallet, shoulder surf when you’re at an ATM, pose as a legitimate entity calling to verify account information, or divert your mail with a change of address request. More high tech methods of theft include:
Phishing: E-mail designed to fool you into thinking you’re dealing with a real bank or merchant. It directs you to a phony but very real looking Web site and prompts you to enter personal information to verify your account.
Pharming: Thieves redirect your attempt to visit a legitimate website to another site of their design. They do this by attacking corporate domain name systems (which are internet services that translate domain names into IP addresses) and automatically redirect you to the bogus site.
ATM Skimming: A mechanical card reader is used to capture your account number and PIN at the actual card reader of an ATM. Then fake cards are made with your numbers.
The attorney general’s office recommends the following steps if you’ve become a victim of identity theft:
1. Contact your bank and credit card issuers. Stop payment on all checks that might have been written without your permission and close all credit card accounts and any account accessible by a debit card. Open replacement accounts with new numbers and passwords.
2. File a report with the police. You’ll use this report in dealing with credit bureaus. You should also carry a copy on you in case you get arrested because the thief used your ID when committing crimes.
3. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC maintains a database that aids in investigation. The FTC website also provides an “identity theft affidavit” which you should fill out and send to all the banks and creditors you are communicating with.
4. Contact the three major credit reporting bureaus and request a “fraud alert” be placed on your file.” You will then have to be notified before any new credit can be taken out in your name. Send your police report to the bureaus. This causes the bureaus to block any new, negative credit information resulting from the identity theft.
5. Notify your phone company. If the thief is misusing your telephone or cellular account, close your account and open a replacement one with a new password.
6. Notify the post office if you suspect your mail was stolen or diverted to a new address by a phony change of address request filed by the thief.
7. Notify the Social Security Administration if you suspect someone is using your social security number.
8. If your passport has been stolen, notify the State Department, Passport Office to be on guard for anyone ordering a new passport in your name.
9. If you are contacted by a collections agency for a debt you did not make, notify them that you did not make the debt and are a victim of identity theft. Send them your police report and ID Theft Affidavit.
If you do any of the above by phone, follow it all up in writing. Keep copies of everything. It can be a lengthy process to clear everything up. Don’t give up.
Check out the excellent identity theft prevention and victim assistant resource guide offered by the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office: http://www.co.larimer.co.us/da/identity_theft.pdf
Come to Student Legal Services for help.
Kathleen Harward is the director of Student Legal Services. SLS writes a column biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.