Identity theft is reported as the fastest growing financial crime in the United
States. Although not limited to any specific industry, identity theft
crimes in the financial arena continue to receive greater attention.
Industry reports show that 500,000 identity theft cases were filed in
2000. It is estimated that the figure could triple by 2005.
Identity theft is the illegal process of stealing an individualís personal
information and incurring debt in the victimís name. The victimís
social security number is used to open checking accounts, credit cards,
or obtain loans. In many cases, the individual is unaware that he or she
has been victimized until months or years after the crime.
Why the rise of identity theft?
Although many reasons contribute to the rise of identity theft crimes, the
increased use of social security numbers as a form of identification is
one major reason. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act may
also have been a reason for the need to create phony identification
thereby increasing the use of social security numbers.
How can I protect myself against identity theft?
There is no guarantee that you will not be a victim. You can decrease your chances by
practicing the following:
- Do not put social security number (SSN) on checks, business cards or labels. Do not
use SSN as a personal identification number (PIN).
- Always inquire about an alternative method of identification when requested to use your
SSN as an ID. Always request a private businessís written policy
of requiring a SSN as an ID.
- Review and verify your Social Security Personal Earnings & Benefit Estimate Statement
every year. Contact the Social Security Administration at (800)
- Request and verify the accuracy of your credit report every year. Review credit card and
checking account statements monthly.
- Carry only the minimal amount of personal information and the fewest number of credit cards
that you need.
- Limit the number of credit cards used for purchases on the Internet. Shred personal
documents or remove identifiable information before discarding ATM
receipts and unused credit card offers.
- Be aware of telephone solicitors and callers. Never give out your SSN or other personal information to unknown callers.
What should I do if I am a victim?
When you first report the fraudulent activity, creditors may be reluctant to discuss specific
details of the account with you. It could take several months to repair
the damage in some cases. There is no immediate remedy.
- Requests copies of your credit report. One report is free each year.
- Contact creditors or financial institutions immediately to close the accounts, change
passwords or restrict access to the accounts.
- Follow up with a letter to each creditor. Exercise your rights under the Fair Credit
Reporting Act. Forward letters to each of the major credit reporting
agencies disputing any errors.
- Place "fraud alerts and a victim's statement" on each of your credit files
maintained with Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, the larger credit
- Check the inquiry section of your credit report. Request that any inquiries from
companies that opened the fraudulent accounts be removed.
- File a report with the your local police department.
How do state and federal governments assist identity theft victims?
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act and the Fair Credit
Reporting Act are federal consumer protection laws that address privacy
issues and identity theft.
Victims may file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-ID-Theft.
Typically, complaints are used to assist in law enforcement and
In addition to the FTC,
US Postal Service, FBI and local law enforcement, the Commissioner of
Financial Regulation assists victims by working with them to resolve
errors in their credit reports. Although the Commissioner does not
license credit bureaus, the Commissioner is the primary regulator in
Maryland for credit reporting agencies.
Forward inquires/complaints to:
Commissioner of Financial Regulation
500 North Calvert
Street, Suite 402
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Toll free: 1-888-784-0136
Fax (410) 333-0475
Additional Resources For Fraud Victims