Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number, and date of birth or credit card number, without your consent, to commit fraud or other crimes. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17.6 million US residents experienced identity theft in 2014 and the number is on the rise.  With sophisticated criminals constantly developing new techniques to tap into your personal information, it is more important than ever to educate yourself on these types of scams and the steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming a victim.

What are some of the ways that identity thieves steal personal information?

Mailbox “Fishing”
Identity thieves use rodent glue traps and other mechanisms to “fish” mail from the blue United States Postal collection mailboxes.  Once your mail is stolen, any enclosed personal checks might be “washed,” or wiped clean of all handwriting using an acetone solution and rewritten to change the payee and payment amount. The check will later be cashed or deposited and the money withdrawn. Often times, the check writer won’t know for a month or more that the check has gone missing. Check your bank statements frequently and report any discrepancies in written checks to your financial institution and local police department immediately. Try to place mail into receptacles located inside the post office whenever possible to minimize the risk of this type of fraud.

New and existing account fraud
Major news networks have reported large scale data breaches involving financial institutions, major retailers and certain health care providers. Computer hackers and identity thieves work together to steal credit and debit card numbers and other personal identifying information such as social security numbers and dates of birth.  The card numbers are then used to create counterfeit, or “cloned” credit cards or to make internet purchases.  This is how you may still be in possession of your card and yet be the victim of fraudulent card activity in another state or online.  Review your credit card and bank statements frequently for unauthorized withdrawals and charges and check your credit report every four months for fraudulent account openings. 

“Skimming”

  • Skimming occurs when an identity thief steals credit card and debit card information using a special information storage device as your card is being processed.
  • Keep an eye on your card. If you see your card being swiped through two different machines, contact the store manager and ask for an explanation.

Identity thieves will seek out jobs for the sole purpose of gaining access to credit card numbers and other personal information.

“Spoofing”

  • Spoofing occurs when an identity thief purposely chooses a domain name or email address similar to a legitimate website or email address in order to steal private information.
  • Make sure you double check the site address and email address to avoid being the victim of this scam. Even a discrepancy of one symbol can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in theft.

“Phishing”

  • Phishing happens when an identity thief sends an email posing as your bank or financial institution requiring you to reply with personal information for “security reasons.” This is a classic identity theft scam.
  • If this should happen, do not respond. Alert your internet service provider and financial institution immediately.

Vigilance is key

  • Keep an eye on your financial affairs to prevent large scale theft of your identity.  Consumers are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus annually. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to order your free report. Look for unauthorized loans, credit card accounts opened in your name, credit inquiries that are not promotional in nature, etc.  
  • Shred or destroy paperwork you no longer need.
  • Immediately report lost or stolen cards.
  • Sign all credit cards upon receipt.
  • Review your credit card statements carefully and follow-up with creditors if bills do not arrive on time.
  • Never leave your wallet or purse containing credit and debit cards in your car overnight.  Be sure to lock your vehicle doors, even if your vehicle is parked in your driveway.
  • Join “Fraud Alert” programs offered by your financial institutions.
  • Place passwords on your credit cards, bank and phone accounts that are not obvious to others.
  • Secure personal information in your home.
  • Ensure that security procedures in the workplace protect your personal information.
  • Limit the number of credit cards you carry.
  • Never carry your Social Security card with you.
  • Never give out personal information over the phone.
  • Pay your bills online.
  • Mail checks from inside the post office.

You’ve been victimized, now what?

  • Contact the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office Identity Theft Help Line at (914) 995-0002
  • Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Report fraudulent activity to your financial institution.
  • Cancel your accounts and get new ones if fraudulent activity has taken place
  • Notify your postal inspector if mail theft is involved.

Contact all three credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your credit report so that any activity will be reported to you immediately.