Identity Theft Update
Is identity theft still a threat? Although identity theft scams may fail to grab the top headlines or lead the local newscast, it is as important as ever to avoid being lulled into complacency with respect to protecting yourself from identity theft. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there were a record number of data security breaches in 2007, with more than 79 million records reported as compromised and, according to the Federal Trade Commission, in recent years upwards of eight million Americans have been victimized by identity thieves. Fortunately, some of the most powerful weapons in the identity theft protection toolbox are free.
Checking your credit report for fraudulent activity is essential in guarding yourself from identity theft. The law entitles you to one free copy per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You can order your free annual credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com, by calling 877-322-8228, or by completing the Annual Credit Report Request Form available at www.ftc.gov and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Also be sure to check your billing statements carefully every month for any unauthorized activity.
If you believe you may be the victim of identity theft, you may want to consider placing a fraud alert on your credit files. There are two types of fraud alerts, and both can be placed free of charge. An initial alert remains on your credit file for up to ninety days and requires creditors to contact you for confirmation before opening any new accounts or making changes to existing accounts. An extended fraud alert provides the same protection, but lasts for seven years and requires creditors to call or contact you in the method you designate once you have placed the alert. Those requesting an extended alert must submit a copy of a report filed with a law enforcement agency. To place a fraud alert contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies at the addresses listed below. Once you contact one agency, the others will be notified.
If you have identified fraudulent activity on your credit report or you have received bills for goods or services that you did not order, you may want to consider placing a security freeze. Security freezes prohibit access to a consumer's credit file unless he or she expressly consents to it. Since most creditors will not extend new credit or increase existing lines of credit without first viewing an applicant's credit file, security freezes effectively cut off identity thief's access to credit, loans and leases. To place a security freeze you must contact each of the three major consumer reporting agencies and make a request in writing by certified mail or overnight mail. Consumers are permitted to remove a freeze entirely, lift a freeze for a specific period of time, or grant a specific party access to their frozen file. Consumer reporting agencies are allowed, but not required, to charge consumers who are not identity theft victims a fee of up to five dollars for the removal or lifting of a freeze, or the second or subsequent placement of a freeze. No charges are allowed for identity theft victims who present a police report or a signed copy of a Federal Trade Commission ID theft victim's affidavit to the consumer reporting agency or to any consumer placing their first freeze on their file. For more information about New York's security freeze law, please visit the New York State Consumer Protection Board's Security Freeze webpage at http://www.consumer.state.ny.us/security_freeze.htm. For more information about obtaining a Federal Trade Commission ID theft victim's affidavit, please visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/affidavit.pdf.
Obtaining a police report is an essential step for identity theft victims. Last year the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to take identity theft complaints and issue reports. With a police report in hand, victims have a much easier time getting fraudulent charges removed and bogus accounts closed.
To place a fraud alert or security freeze you may contact Equifax at: 1-800-525-6285, www.equifax.com, or P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241; Experian at: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742), www.experian.com, or P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013; or TransUnion at: 1-800-680-7289, www.transunion.com, or Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790.
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