Identity Fraud (also known as Identity Theft) is the use of someone's identification information such as name, date of birth, social security number, mother's maiden name or credit card number, for fraudulent purposes.
Common uses for stolen identification information include stealing from the victim's financial accounts, establishing bank or credit accounts to make purchases or secure loans, or avoiding apprehension for a crime.
Since the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, the law enforcement community has also been focusing on the prevalence of illegal aliens who utilize identity fraud to create fraudulent documents to enter the country and/or obtain employment.
Identity Fraud is one of the fastest growing crimes. It is a relatively easy crime to commit and can cause serious problems for victims who may spend many frustrating months (or even years) and hundreds or thousands of dollars fixing the damage caused to their credit record and name. They may be refused loans, lose employment opportunities or even be arrested for an offense they didn't commit.
How Your Identity Can Be Stolen:
There are many ways your identification information may be stolen:
Identity thieves may simply steal your wallet or purse to obtain your driver's license, credit cards or social security card.
They may go through your trash, either at home or at work, to obtain discarded documents containing your identification information.
They may file a "Change of Address" form with the post office, diverting credit card bills and bank statements to another location.
Pretext Calling: They will call on the telephone using a ploy to obtain information. They may also call financial institutions and pose as a customer to obtain information.
They may obtain information by eavesdropping on cellular phone conversations.
An increasingly common method for obtaining identification is through the Internet. Hackers gain entry to personal computer files in increasingly common scams such as "Account Verification" and dupe victims into providing identity information.
How To Protect Yourself:
While you cannot totally eliminate the risk of becoming an Identity Fraud victim, there are many things you can do to protect yourself.
FREE CREDIT REPORTS - Free credit reports are now available as a result of an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You are entitled to receive one free credit file disclosure (credit report) every 12 months from each of the three major nationwide consumer credit reporting companies. It is your choice whether you order all three credit file disclosures at the same time or order one now and others later. The advantage of getting all three at the same time is that you can compare them. However you will not be eligible for another free credit report for 12 months. On the other hand, the advantage of ordering one now and others later (for example, one credit report every four months) is that you can keep track of any changes or new information that may appear.
You can order your credit report via telephone, the internet or by mail.
Telephone: Call 1-877-322-8228. You will go through a simple automated verification process and your report will be mailed to you.
Once you receive your credit report, review it carefully. It should list accounts only under your name and show only your personal identification information (name, date of birth, SSN, current and past addresses, current and past employers, etc.). There should be nobody else's information on your report. It will provide other indications of whether someone has fraudulently opened or used any accounts in your name, including an inquiries section listing everyone who has accessed your report, and special messages or alerts.
If you find evidence of fraud on your credit report, call the credit bureau and tell them what information you believe is inaccurate. Follow-up in writing and include copies of documents that support your position. Also tell the individual creditor, in writing, that you dispute an item. Again, include copies of pertinent documents.
Consider limiting the number of credit or debit accounts you have open and carry only the card(s) you will actually use. Store other cards in a secure location.
Carefully review each transaction of every statement. Pay attention to billing cycles. A missed credit card bill might mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address.
Keep your wallet or purse in a safe place at work and when traveling. Don't leave your purse unattended in a shopping cart or visible from outside your vehicle.
Remove received mail from your mailbox promptly. Deposit mail only in post office collection boxes or directly at your local post office.
Never leave credit transaction receipts at bank counters, ATM machines, in trash receptacles or at gas pumps. When you no longer need the receipts, destroy them by shredding.
Be wary of anyone calling to "confirm" personal or financial information. This is known as "Pretext Calling" or Pretexting, and is a common ploy used by fraudsters. Never give personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the call. Protect this information and release it only when necessary.
Educate yourself about Identity Fraud. Your financial institutions, law enforcement agency, bookstores and libraries have literature available. If you are online, visit the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.gov/idtheft and the Identity Theft Resource Center at www.idtheftcenter.org.
In addition to Identity Fraud, the FBI has identified other Internet crime schemes. They include the following:
Online Auction/Retail: Misrepresentation of a product advertised for sale through an Internet auction site or the non-delivery of products purchased through an Internet auction site.
Non-delivery of Goods/Services: The non-delivery of goods or services that were purchased or contracted remotely through the Internet, independent of an Internet auction site.
Credit/Debit Card Fraud: Account numbers are stolen from unsecured web sites or obtained in Identity Fraud schemes.
Freight/Merchandise Forwarding or Reshipping: Individuals are solicited online, often in chat rooms or Internet job postings, to receive, repackage and reship merchandise, often to or from other countries, or to hold for pick-up by a third party. Usually the products have been purchased with fraudulent credit cards.
Counterfeit Check Schemes: The use of a counterfeit check or corporate check to pay for merchandise. Often involves the victim being duped into wiring an overage amount overseas.
Business/Employment Schemes: Typically involves a combination of identity theft, freight forwarding and counterfeit checks.
Phishing or Spoofing: A technique in which the electronic files of a legitimate web site are copied or authentic sounding e-mail addresses are used. The victim believes they are dealing with a familiar business and duped into divulging personal information.
Phony Escrow Services: Spoofing involving the exchange of payment and merchandise for an Internet auction purchase.
Advance-Fee Fraud Schemes: Victim is required to pay a fee in advance of receiving a substantial amount of money. One common example is a victim being promised a large commission to move a substantial sum of money out of a foreign country.
Ponzi / Pyramid Schemes: A scheme in which investors are promised abnormally high profits on their investments. No investment is actually made. Early investors are paid returns with money received from later investors. The system usually collapses and the later investors do not receive dividends and lose their initial investment. If you are the victim of Internet Fraud, in addition to filing a report with your local law enforcement agency, you can make a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance - www.ic3.gov. IC3 and The Identity Theft Resource Center - www.idtheftcenter.org keep current lists of consumer scams, alerts and warnings on their web sites.
Protecting Yourself Online:
Utilize a firewall, especially if you have a high-speed Internet connection that keeps the computer online twenty-four hours a day.
Use anti-virus and spyware protection and be sure to keep them updated.
Do not download files or click on links sent by strangers.
Do not send credit card, bank account or financial data or identity information over the Internet unless you are visiting a secure site. Make sure the secure site authentication key is showing in your browser's status bar.
Avoid storing financial information on a portable laptop. If you do, use a strong password consisting of numbers and letters. Don't use an automatic log-in feature and always log off when you are done. This will make it difficult for thieves to access your information in the event the computer is stolen.
Be wary of online ploys that will attempt to dupe you into entering your personal information. Never reveal your passwords.
Keep updated on the latest scams by visiting web sites such as the Federal Trade Commission and FBI and share this information with others.
If your credit cards, debit cards or ATM cards are stolen or lost, notify the credit companies immediately to cancel them. Get new cards with new PIN numbers.
If checks are stolen, contact your bank to stop payment and ask them to notify their check verification company.
If checks are stolen, contact your bank to stop payment and ask them to notify their check verification company.
Contact your local law enforcement agency and file a report as soon as possible. Obtain a copy of the report, and any written statement you are asked to make and send copies to the major credit agencies. They may block the disputed information from your credit reports.
Start a file to document everything related to the crime. Keep a log of all conversations, including dates of contact, names and telephone numbers that you have with law enforcement agencies and financial institutions. Maintain copies of all letters and documents. Keep notes on the amount of personal time you spend and any expenses incurred. Confirm all conversations of those spoken with in writing. Send correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested.
File an Identity Fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (See Agencies and Organizations below). The FTC is the federal clearinghouse for complaints of Identity Fraud. This is important so law enforcement agencies can spot patterns and combine cases when possible. Complete the ID Theft Affidavit Form. Send to the three major credit agencies. (See Agencies and Organizations below)
Immediately contact each of the three largest credit bureaus (See Agencies and Organizations below) by phone and in writing. Request that a Fraud Alert be placed on your account, and make a Victim Statement. The Fraud Alert will notify creditors to confirm the identity of anyone trying to gain credit or obtain other services in connection with your credit report. The Victim Statement notifies creditors to contact you before granting credit.
If you suspect mail fraud, contact the United States Postal Service. (See Agencies and Organizations)
If your driver's license has been stolen, contact your state department of motor vehicles. (Ohioans, see Agencies and Organizations).
Be sure to read the Federal Trade Commission's online report entitled ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name. (See Agencies and Organizations) This is an excellent, in-depth but easy to read report about what to do as an Identity Fraud victim. If you do not have access to the Internet, check with your local library.
Be persistent and patient.
Help from the Ohio Attorney General:
Identity theft victims can receive assistance from the Attorney General's Office. Victims can receive a step-by-step guide with contact information and form letters, or they can receive help from a consumer advocate.
The internet is a truly amazing tool for education, news, research, entertainment, shopping, business and communication. But like any activity there is an inherent danger, particularly for children. The online population is merely a reflection of society, and while most internet users have positive experiences, some encounter persons who are rude, threatening or even exploitative. By educating, supervising and communicating openly with your child, you can reduce his or her risks. In this section we focus on those online risks most common to children.
According to the Ohio Attorney General's Office:
1 in 5 youths between the ages of 10 and 17 has received unwanted solicitations online.
1 in 4 youths has been exposed to sexually explicit pictures online without seeking or expecting them.
1 in 17 youths has been threatened or harassed online.
1 in 33 youths has received an aggressive solicitation to meet somewhere.
The internet, often referred to as the Information Superhighway, is limitless and uncensored. Anyone anywhere can publish anything on the internet. And while chat rooms, e-mail, instant messaging, newsgroups, bulletin boards and blogs offer seeming complete anonymity in communication, it is within this sense of privacy that predators seek to lure child victims.
He/she spends large amount of time online, either on a personal computer at home or elsewhere, or on a portable device such as a cell phone.
The time your child spends online is mostly in the evening or late at night.
He/she has few friends and/or outside activities.
Concealing online content by suddenly turning off the monitor or changing screen when a parent walks near.
You discover pornographic material on you child's computer or in his/her possession.
Your child receives letters or packages from someone you do not know.
Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.
Predators frequently begin their search for victims in chat rooms, a place online where people can "talk" with each other by typing messages that are displayed almost instantly. Chat room participants and observers can view all of the conversations taking place as well as screen names or user names on their computer screen.
A Note about Screen Names
A predator pays close attention to the conversations taking place in the chat room and to… screen names or user names… A screen name of "sandy14tennisgal," for example, might indicate that the child is a 14-year-old female named Sandy who is interested in tennis. Knowing this information, an adult who is seeking to exploit or harm a child may then assume an identity that would be likely to attract the attention of that child. If the predator assumes the name of "guy4tennis," for instance, the girl might believe the person she is chatting with is a male interested in tennis as well. (Internet Safety - Ohio Attorney General)
After establishing a relationship with a potential victim, the predator will seek to build trust by manipulating or "grooming" the child in a number of ways:
Most commonly they will:
Discuss shared interests, hobbies, music, etc.
Comfort or counsel the child in regards to family or personal problems.
Expose them to inappropriate material, often sexually explicit images, stories, or videos. This is especially common for children who are at an age or maturity level in which they are naturally curious about the subject.
Offer money, gifts, or "opportunities" such as a modeling career.
Usually the predator's ultimate goal is to build a "friendship" that will result in a personal meeting culminating with sexual conduct with the child. This meeting may be preceded by telephone communication.
There are many things you can do to protect your child online.
First review the following basic safety tips, be sure your children understand them, and remind them frequently.
Children should not give out personal information such as name, home address, school name or telephone number. They should never send a picture of himself/herself to anyone they chat with on the internet without the permission of parents.
Children should never respond to someone who has made you feel uncomfortable or scared. They should inform parents right away if they read or see anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Remember that people being chatted with online may not be who they say they are. Someone who says she is a "12-year-old girl" could really be an older man.
Children should never agree to meet face-to-face with someone they have met online without the permission and accompaniment of a parent.
Parents should spend time online with their children.
Parents should use Caller ID to be aware of who their child is calling and who is calling them.
The most important thing that parents and other responsible adults can do to protect children online is to monitor their internet use consistently.
Computers should be placed in a common area with the screen facing out and children should not be permitted to password protect their terminal. Parents should regularly review the websites their children are visiting, the e-mail communications and online chat conversations they are taking part in, and any diskettes the child may be utilizing to conceal his/her activities. Always maintain access to your child's online account and openly discuss the importance of your duty to monitor their internet use.
If you do not know how to check your child's computer, ask a friend, coworker, relative or other knowledgeable person. There are software programs, such as Spectorsoft's Spector Pro, that you can purchase to record in detail all of your child's computer and internet use. Such a program might be used in conjunction with a filtering or blocking program like Net Nanny or CyberSitter that is designed to prevent illicit material from being viewed, limit time online, restrict chatting and prevent personal ID information from being transmitted.
If you believe your child has been contacted by a child predator, save any communications that you are able to, then call your local police department immediately.
The www.SafeKids.Com Home page contains information about the dangers of children using the internet. It includes rules, advice, and tips relating to child security and the internet and has a list of affiliate sites for further information.
Your local library can direct you to books about internet safety.
If you do not have an internet connection, your local library likely offers online access.
Agencies And Organizations To Report To:
To order your report, call: 800-685-1111
To report fraud, call: 800-525-6285 / TDD 800-255-0056
Or write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
To order your report, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
To report fraud, call: -EXPERIAN (397-3742) / TDD 800-972-0322
Or write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen TX 75013
To order your report, call: 800-888-4213
To report fraud, call: 800-680-7289 / TDD 877-553-7803
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 6790
Check Verification Companies
If you have checks stolen and/or are closing a checking account, you can call Telecheck and Certegy to request retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks. TeleCheck: - 1800-710-9898 Certegy (formerly Equifax) 1-800-437-5120
To find out if bad checks have been passed in your name, call: SCAN: 1-800-262-7771
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office
Justice Center - Courts Tower
1200 Ontario Street, Cleveland, OH 44113
Social Security Fraud hotline (for fraud involving your social security number)
U.S. Postal Service, Cleveland
(If your mail has been stolen or tampered with, or the mail was used to facilitate a fraud) On-line at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/ > Investigations > Mail Fraud > File a Mail Fraud Complaint
Information Resources for this Handbook:
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office
Identity Theft Recourse Center
Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
Ohio Office of the Attorney General
Ohio State Highway Patrol
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Federal Trade Commission
U.S. Department of Justice