How Identity Theft Can Ruin Your Good Name
It can take a con only minutes to destroy a solid credit record that may have taken you years to build.
Identity theft, a growing problem, ( 700,000 victims in U.S. last year ) occurs when a con artist appropriates another’s name, address, Social Security number or other identifying information and uses that information to open new credit card accounts, take over existing accounts, obtain loans in the victim’s name or steal funds from the victim’s checking, savings, or investment accounts.
"Identity theft" is defined as the use, transfer or theft of personal identifying information for the purpose of committing a crime. This is to be contrasted with "identity fraud," which is one of the crimes for which identity theft might be used such as the theft of money, services or products through the use of someone else’s identity.
A lost wallet is just one way identity thieves can steal your personal information and wreak havoc with your personal finances. Others methods include:
|fraudulently accessing your credit report by posing as an employer, loan officer or landlord;|
|"shoulder surfing" at automated teller machines (ATMs) and phone booths to capture your personal identification numbers (PINs);|
|compiling info from internet accessible records;|
|stealing mail from mailboxes to get newly issued credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers and tax information; and going through trash bins for credit card and loan applications.|
Victims of credit identity fraud go through a difficult and time-consuming ordeal to convince lenders and credit reporting agencies that they have been the victim of identity theft, have the erroneous information removed from their credit reports and prevent future damage from the perpetrators.
Consumer victims who turn to law enforcement also report having difficulty obtaining help. Criminal laws for the most part do not recognize wronged consumers as victims of identity theft. Typically, consumers have little evidence that they themselves did not incur the charges of identity thieves. The majority of victims do not even know how their identifying information was compromised.
In addition, creditors who can write off losses and pass them on to other consumers in the form of higher interest rates, fees and costs may not pursue identity thieves. Even when creditors refer cases to law enforcement, consumer advocates and victims report that cases that do not meet significant dollar thresholds (typically $50,000) fall through the cracks.
In the United States in 1997, the Secret Service made nearly 9500 arrests in which so-called identity theft was an issue, amounting to US$745 million in losses to individual victims and financial institutions. It has been estimated that 95% of financial crimes in the United States involve stolen identities, with financial losses in respect of such crime nearly doubling in the two years preceding 1998.
The U.S. Secret Service defines identity theft as using another person’s name and social security number for fraudulent purposes, such as to purchase goods on credit. A larger-scale version is what’s called identity takeover, in which thieves use the victim's identity and credit to open bank accounts, apply for credit and even take out loans.
Federal law prevents identity theft victims from being held liable for bills incurred by imposters. Consumers, however, can spend months, and even years, in repairing the damage to their good credit.
A variety of abuses of the bankruptcy system, including the concealment of assets in bankruptcy, the making of false sworn financial statements in bankruptcy proceedings, and the filing of bankruptcies under false social security numbers are often dubbed "identity fraud" by prosecutors and government regulators.
Cons attempt to obtain the benefits of bankruptcy such as relief from debt collection, while attempting to escape negative credit consequences.
In one case they leased a residence and obtained credit with the name and social security number of an unsuspecting victim then they occupied the residence, ran up the credit cards, then filed for bankruptcy in the victim’s name. One bankruptcy petition was filed in the name of a recently deceased father.
Such fraudulent bankruptcy filings often wreak havoc on innocent people who must spend substantial resources to clear their credits and their names. The rampant theft and abuse of other people’s credit histories and social security numbers has become one of the biggest problems of consumer bankruptcy fraud.
Send out the Troops
Following is the statement of Lt. Colonel John T. Stevens, Jr. which was presented to the Identity Theft Prevention Workshop presented by the Social Security Administration - Office of the Inspector General - on October 25, 2000 detailing his experience with this crime.
Today almost everyone uses an ATM for his or her banking transactions or whenever cash is needed. This, of course, requires a Personal Identification Number, a PIN.
If you were applying for credit, using a credit card, renting a videotape or cashing a check would you comply with a demand to write your PIN on these documents? I think not. Yet, where is the reluctance to furnish your social security number when demanded by these same people?
Think about it. A PIN only represents a very small segment of your life. It is usually just your bank account. A social security number represents you. Anyone possessing it can initiate any credit transaction in your name without being challenged. They can buy cars, obtain loans, open charge accounts, get a traffic citation, or have an outstanding court default judgment, all in your name by using your social security number.
Even worse, you will not even know that it is happening until you get that first letter or phone call from a creditor demanding payment on an account that you never heard of until then.
Our nightmare began in 1997 when I received a call from Nations Bank (now Bank of America) demanding payment on a 1997 Jeep Cherokee. Although this purchase was made in Texas and financed through one of their banks in Texas, they were calling me in Maryland where I have now resided for almost 35 years.
I told them that I did not buy a Jeep Cherokee; I do not have a Jeep Cherokee; and the only time I had lived in Texas was when I was called to active duty in the Air Force in 1950. (Incidentally, in 1950 I opened a checking account with, what is now, Bank of America.
This did not prevent them from opening a fraud account in my name with a different address and other incorrect personal data.) This prompted my wife and I to request our credit reports from the three major credit-reporting agencies. What a shock! There were 33 fraud accounts with a grand total of $113,000.
We learned, by trial and error, many things not to do in clearing fraud accounts. Letters from our attorney, to the credit reporting agencies and the creditors were ignored. My letters to the credit reporting agencies would result in a 30-day investigation, which usually resulted in "the information is being correctly reported".
The credit reporting agencies were of no help in locating the address and phone number of the fraud account. I used the Internet to track them down. Our attorney would prepare a sworn affidavit to send to them. This affidavit would attest to the fact that we were not the ones that opened the account. In effect, we were being asked to prove a negative. We had to prove that we did not open this account.
We have since learned to demand a copy of the application, copies of the charge receipts or delivery slips. With this evidence in hand, their claim falls apart. It proves that you did not open the account. In reviewing the applications that we received, the only consistently correct item was the social security number. Any address, place of employment, birthday, spouse name or birthday and spelling of the last name didn't matter. That 9-digit National PIN, a social security number, was all the identification required.
We managed to clear our reports of all fraud accounts and fraud data in about a year. My wife and I would spend 6 to 8 hours a day locating creditors, writing letters and making phone calls. The creditor would send a special form to the credit reporting agencies to clear their account from our records.
We thought the nightmare was all over and that we could now begin our move to South Carolina. Forget it! We found out the hard way that when a creditor clears an account, that account is assigned to a third party collection agency. I refer to this practice as re-cycling. The third party collection agency would then place this same cleared account back into our credit report. It was usually listed as a charged off or collection account.
Third party collection agencies are nasty, rude, mean people to deal with. We have cleared our credit records at least four times now and dealt with 14 collection agencies so far. These previously cleared accounts kept re-appearing in our reports. Even the third party collection agencies practice re-cycling. My wife has had one account re-cycled 6 times through different third party collection agencies.
I have had one re-cycled four times through the same third party collection agency. This is for an account that was opened over the phone to buy an Oreck vacuum cleaner and financed by Household Bank. This fraud account was first cleared from my credit report in 1997 in spite of the rudeness of the Household Bank representative. After it was cleared from my credit report. It reappeared as an account with Gulf States Credit in Atlanta, GA. They have provided me with two written clearances and one verbal clearance. It was again removed from my credit report.
Guess what? It just reappeared on my latest Equifax credit report. This is a never-ending struggle that has no end in sight.
How can this happen? In our opinion, there is a complete lack of accountability of the creditor and the credit-reporting agency. As long as a social security number is provided, there seems to be no effort to properly identify an applicant or to even insure that all of the required information is provided in the application.
Some copies of applications that we received were not even completely filled in. This did not inhibit approval by the creditor or the false information being accepted by the credit-reporting agency. The credit reporting agencies didn't even bother to question the very obvious changes to long established personal data. Even a check on the issue date of the social security number and the birth date, when provided by the applicant, would have eliminated most of our fraud accounts.
When the account goes bad, the creditor or a third party collection agency suddenly discovers the correct information in the credit report to locate us and begin their harassment. In our opinion, the person opening the fraud account, the creditor and the credit reporting agency are all co-conspirators and equally guilty of fraud.
A representative of a major credit reporting agencies once told us that they did not have time to check the accuracy of the information provided by their clients. There is absolutely no concern shown by them that their lack of even providing the most rudimentary check for authenticity of the information received in an application is wrecking our lives and the lives of many people throughout the country.
If anyone had bothered to analyze our credit reports, they would have observed that all of the old accounts, opened by us, were good and all of the new accounts, opened by an impostor, were delinquent. When a fraud application was sent to a credit-reporting agency, the false information was added to our credit report and became a part of our record. This false information must also be corrected along with the fraud accounts. Even it is recycled back into our credit reports after being corrected.
This is a crime that can completely disrupt your life. It is degrading and demeaning to be accused of being an irresponsible dead-beat and be forced to correct something that was caused by the acceptance of the social security number, by a creditor, as the only primary means of identification required to do business with them.
Those of us, who are active or retired members of the military, or Medicare recipients, are especially vulnerable. The social security number has replaced the military service number and Medicare uses the social security number with a letter suffix. To make purchases in a Base Commissary or a Base Exchange, my name, rank, social security number, branch of service, address and phone numbers must be placed on my check.
Since this check must go through many hands before it reaches my bank, this critical personal information is being exposed to possible fraudulent use. The authority, cited for requiring this, is the Privacy Act of 1974 (Title 10 US Code 3013 and 8013). I have never understood why this is called a privacy act.
It is our hope that as more people become aware of this crime, more can be done to prevent it. I hope that all of you here today can become the nucleolus of that force so that we can begin to show progress toward its complete eradication.
Lt. Colonel John T. Stevens, Jr.
Mary Elizabeth H. Stevens
More info on repairing your credit file.
Steps you can take to protect your privacy and minimize your risk of credit identity fraud:
|Guard your personal identifying information. Before divulging it, you should find out how it will be used and whether it will be transferred to third parties. You should find out whether you have the choice of "opting out" of having the information shared with third parties;|
|Ensure that items containing personal information —such as charge receipts, insurance forms and bank statements —are disposed of safely;|
|Disclose your Social Security or SIN numbers only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use alternate numbers as identifiers whenever possible, including on motor vehicle licenses;|
|Carry only the credit cards and identification you actually need. Those who lose credit cards should notify their creditors by phone and request that a "fraud alert" be placed in their file;|
|Pay attention to billing cycles. Bills that do not arrive on time may have been misdirected by identity thieves;|
|Never give out your credit card or bank account information over the phone unless you’re familiar with the business and have initiated the call;|
|When creating passwords and PINs, avoid using your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security Number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.|
|Periodically check your credit report.|
If your wallet is deemed lost or stolen, consider the following:
|File a report with the police immediately. Get a copy in case your bank, credit card company or insurance company need proof of the crime.|
|Cancel each credit and charge card. Get new cards with new account numbers.|
|Report missing cards to the major credit reporting agencies. Ask them to flag your accounts with a "fraud alert" and add a "victim’s statement" to your file if abused.|
|Report the loss to your bank. Cancel checking and savings accounts and open new ones. Stop payments on outstanding blank checks.|
|Call your utilities, including your phone company. Tell them that someone may try to get new service using your identification.|
|Report your missing driver’s license to the department of motor vehicles. Get a new number that’s not your Social Security Number.|
|Change the locks on your home and car if your keys were taken. Don’t give an identity thief access to even more personal property and information.|
Call the fraud units of the three principal credit reporting companies:
To report fraud, call (800) 525-6285 or write to P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA 30374-0250.
To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states), write to P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241, or call (800) 685-1111.
To dispute information in your report, call the phone number provided on your credit report.
To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit, call (888) 567-8688 or write to Equifax Options, P.O. Box 740123, Atlanta GA 30374-0123.
Experian (formerly TRW)
To report fraud, call (888) EXPERIAN or (888) 397-3742, fax to (800) 301-7196, or write to P.O. Box 1017, Allen, TX 75013.
To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states): P.O. Box 2104, Allen TX 75013, or call (888) EXPERIAN.
To dispute information in your report, call the phone number provided on your credit report.
To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists, call (800) 353-0809 or (888) 5OPTOUT or write to P.O. Box 919, Allen, TX 75013.
To report fraud, call (800) 680-7289 (U.S.) 1-800-663-9980 (Canada) or write to P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634.
To order a copy of your credit report ($8 in most states, free in Canada), write to P.O. Box 390, Springfield, PA 19064 or call: (800) 888-4213.
To dispute information in your report, call the phone number provided on your credit report.
To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit and marketing lists, call (800) 680-7293 or (888) 5OPTOUT or write to P.O. Box 97328, Jackson, MS 39238.
A victim is referred to the credit reporting agencies "Fraud Victim Assistance Department" when their identification has been lost or stolen. This does not include those circumstances where just a single card has been stolen, in which case the credit bureau cannot help. They are primarily concerned with those situations where enough I.D. has been lost to create a potential application fraud problem.
STEP 1 Add Consumer Fraud Statement To Credit File
A special code (#HK#) goes on the file stating "Current/previous address is reported by victim as misused". This is to ensure that all application fraud victims are protected from future misuse.
For example: #HK# Fraud Victim; do not extend credit without first contacting me personally and verifying all applicant information. Contact me for verification at Work: (416) 609-2070 or Home: (416) 555-1212. Dated 01/00 (expires in 7 years)
STEP 2 Highlight Recent Inquiries and/or Accounts Suspected as Fraud
Refer consumer to the credit-granting business or organization.
STEP 3 Notify Victim Credit Grantors
Credit-granting business or organizationis advised to check for a recent application or opened account associated with the consumer.
STEP 4 Mail Statement Authorization Form
This permits FVAD to maintain the consumer fraud statement on file, and authorizes Trans Union to mail the consumer a copy of their credit file.
STEP 5 Add Fraud Data to HAWK
HAWK is the Trans Union national database of potentially fraudulent indicative information that alerts their commercial credit granting customers to possible fraud before they issue credit, open an account or otherwise provide goods or services to a customer.
With application fraud, organized fraud groups typically use certain types of addresses and telephone numbers. They also have a tendency to re-use data. HAWK does comparisons using a database of high risk, suspicious and fraudulent application data, including an industry-shared negative database. When a match occurs, a warning message is generated prompting further investigation.
|SIN’s –retired, invalid, issued before birth date, range not yet issued|
|Addresses –P.O. rental boxes, mail drops, institutions, other high risk addresses, geographical inconsistencies|
|Phone numbers –cellular numbers, pay phones|
STEP 6 Mail Credit File to Consumer
Upon receipt of authorization form, a copy of the consumer’s credit file is sent to them at no charge in Canada, after any needed corrections and the consumer fraud statement are placed on the file. A dispute form is included with the credit file.
STEP 7 Restore Credit File To It’s Accurate State
FVAD will investigate any disputed credit information and restore the consumer’s credit file to it’s accurate state.
STEP 8 Inform Consumer that they must contact Equifax as well
Although their FVAD does not have any direct contact or collaboration with Equifax, they do refer fraud victims over to them, so that victims are able to review and annotate both credit bureau files.
The consumers report their fraud directly to the police (usually on the advice of a credit grantor). Credit reporting services do not actively get involved in any police efforts except in compliance of subpoenas for credit bureau files.
The only major differences between the US and Canada are as follows:
|1) The "SSN" is called the Social Insurance Number (SIN).|
2) Credit reports are free in Canada.
3) There are only two bureaus in Canada - Trans Union and Equifax.
4) List generation and the sale of "header" information for marketing purposes has never been allowed in Canada.
Australian Institute of Criminology - Discussion papers on identity theft issues.
Information, Individual Reference and Look-up Services
In response to growing public and Congressional concern, the FTC examined the availability of sensitive personal identifying information through computerized database services which are used to locate, identify, or verify the identity of individuals, often referred to as "individual reference services" or "look-up services".
The Commission found that a vast amount of your personal information is available to customers of individual reference services through networks and increasingly over the Internet.
Information available through the services ranges from purely identifying information, e.g., name and phone number, to much more extensive data, e.g., driving records, criminal and civil court records, property records, and licensing records.
The Commission also learned that convenient access to this type of information confers a myriad of benefits on users of these services and on society. The look-up services enable law enforcement agencies to carry out their missions, parents to find missing children, journalists to report the news, and creditors to find dead-beats.
At the same time, the increasing availability of this information poses various risks of harm to your privacy and financial interests, including the possibility of increasing identity theft.
A set of new industry "principles" was adopted by companies that operate these services. They say they will not distribute to the general public non-public information such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, mother's maiden names, credit histories, financial histories, medical records, or any information about children.
Look-up services may not allow the general public to run searches using a Social Security number as a search term or make available information gathered from marketing transactions. Also, consumers will be allowed to obtain access to the non-public information maintained about them and to "opt-out" of that non-public information.
Public record information and publicly available information shall, however, be usable without restriction unless legally prohibited.
Qualified subscribers for the selective and limited distribution of non-public information must: state their appropriate uses for such information. agree to limit their use and re-dissemination of such information to such appropriate uses. be reasonably identified and meet qualification requirements that establish them as appropriate users of the information and agree to terms and conditions consistent with these principles prior to accessing the information.
More info on this topic may be obtained at:
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,
1717 Kettner Avenue, Suite 105,
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 298-3396; fax: (619) 298-5681;
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
I am sick of giving out personal information in order to receive common services such as auto insurance and car payment quotes. Just look at the info you have to fill out in order to get the savings on sale items with those stupid preferred shoppers cards.
I shouldn't have to fill out a form to save 50 cents on a head of lettuce. Nor should the register clerk be able to plot your wife's menstrual cycle based on past Tampon purchases. No one should be passed over because they do not want to divulge personal info. This has got to stop now.
Many businesses have call centers inside prisons. Imagine if your info is being handled by an inmate who is due to get out in a year. I also recall several instances when I went to buy batteries at "RS" and they asked every person in line for their SSN# insisting they needed this info.
What's next? I can't eat if I don't give out my resume. I am surprised at how many of us have put up with this for so long.
Dr. Turmenne 04/18/02
Identity Verification Methods
The National Fraud Center (Lexis-Nexis) focuses on the analysis and the development of tools to prevent economic crime, particularly money laundering and identity theft. These tools have included automated solutions used to verify and validate financial customers and applicants.
They have designed and implemented one of the first identity validation tools that takes an applicant’s or a claimant’s identifying information, and determines whether there are internal inconsistencies.
For example, they can discern if the area code or an exchange of an applicant’s telephone number is not in close proximity to the zip code of the applicant’s address. It can also determine if an applicant’s social security number was issued before the date of birth. They also have tools which take and match the identifiers of the applicant or claimant against available databases containing personal identifying information.
My ID Fix - Commercial venture which aids identity theft victims with reporting.
Province of Ontario Identity Theft Info - Reporting ID theft to relevant companies.
Identity Theft: A Pernicious and Costly Fraud - research paper - pdf
Identity Theft Resources - links
Identity Theft Working Group - Canada
Always Glad to Help
I'm the online campaign coordinator for the Financial Privacy
team at Consumers Union. You're probably well aware that
our shocking lack of financial privacy puts us all at risk for
crimes like identity theft on a daily basis and that changes taking
place in Congress right now could threaten our financial privacy
rights even more.
That's why we've launched a new campaign, financialprivacynow, to protect American's identity and credit. Since Crimes of Persuasion's web pages deal with related issues, we're hoping you'd be willing to join forces with us to make sure that our financial privacy protections get strengthened, not weakened by Congress.
Current privacy campaign is seeking to have Medical Insurance Companies exclude Social Security Numbers from wallet cards.
If you would like to help, there are a variety of things you could do and they all boil down to helping us spread the word about this issue and the campaign. Concerned citizens can use the FinancialPrivacyNow.org web site to send free emails to their members of Congress urging them to pass stronger financial privacy protections.
If you'd like to help us protect financial privacy, please click the
link below for a variety of ways you can help promote FinancialPrivacyNow.org
and also learn more about the campaign.
Feel free to contact me anytime at email@example.com or 202-478-6172.
Thanks so much,
Online Campaign Coordinator
2120 L St., NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20037
Opting Out of Credit Reviews
Consumers need to monitor their credit score since insurance companies use it to accept or deny auto and home coverage and as a factor in calculating premiums.
People don't realize that those numerous credit card offers they receive in the mail actually erode their credit score even when the consumer doesn't accept the card.
The system doesn't distinguish between companies reviewing reports as a way to search for reliable new customers and a person in financial trouble who is repeatedly applying for credit from those same companies.
A phone number (1-888-567-8688) allows people to opt out of allowing review of their credit history without permission.
About 70 percent of credit reports contain mistakes. About 30 percent contain errors negatively affecting the credit score and, as a result, insurance premiums.
To check a credit report, consumers should call the three main providers:
•Equifax, 800-525-6285 or www.credit.equifax.com.
•Experian, 888-397-3742 or www.experian.com.
•Trans Union, 800-888-4213 or www.transunion.com
Two firms provide credit score information:
•Choice Point at 800-342-5339 or www.choicetrust.com.
•Fair Issacs at www.myfico.com.
People should scrutinize their reports for unknown credit listings as well other bills and statements for suspicious transactions.
Also check out the government site dealing with getting an annual credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com/