Identity Theft

Prevent and respond to identity theft

 

An estimated 17.6 million persons, or about 7 percent of U.S. residents age 16 or older, were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2014, says the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). These statistics were similar to those in 2012 and are the most recent available. Read on for signs of identity theft, how to prevent it and how to respond to it if you are a victim.

 

 

What are some signs of identity theft?

You may receive strange mail for bills or statements for which you have no account with the company or credit card. You may be missing a bill because a thief has changed your billing address. Or, you may receive calls about merchandise you didn’t buy or checks you did not write.

 

How can someone steal your identity?

Thieves can rummage through your trash to steal old receipts or statements. They can break into your car or home, or steal your wallet or purse. They can steal your mail containing bank and credit-card statements, preapproved credit offers or new checks.

 

Preventing identity theft

How do you keep from becoming one of the millions of victims of identity theft?

First, prevention is key! Here are some tips from the Harris County Constable Precinct 5 office:

 

  • Shred as much information as possible (shredded paper is accepted by our curbside recyclers)

  • Do not leave any valuables in your car, including purchase receipts.

  • Be aware of “shoulder surfers,” people standing near you when you enter your personal identification number (PIN) into an ATM or point-of-sale machine. Crowding your personal space enables them to learn your PIN, and may make you uncomfortable enough that you rush off without completing/finalizing the transaction, which leaves your account information “open” on the screen for another transaction by that shoulder surfer!

  • Check where you might be inadvertently sharing your personal information. For instance, hotel-door swipe-cards can be used by hotel employees to access your information after you return the card to the front desk at checkout. And consider those warranty cards you mail in: the manufacturer only needs basic information on you and the product, not personal information.

  • Importantly, monitor your monthly statements for all accounts, and utilize the (free) services to check your overall credit annually.

 

Here are some additional tips:

  • Never share your PINs or other access codes with anyone and don’t carry them in your wallet.

  • Do not carry your Social Security Number or card in your wallet or purse.

  • Don’t give out any personal information over the phone, unless you initiated the call and feel comfortable doing so.

  • Sign all new credit and debit cards immediately. Never loan your credit or debit cards to anyone.

  • Never leave your ATM or gas receipts in the machine or on the ground.

  • Report all lost or stolen cards, or compromised PINs and passwords, IMMEDIATELY.

  • Order checks through your bank – it may have extra security features built into its checks and check-ordering procedures. See if the checks can be delivered to the bank for you to pick up, rather than having them sit on your front porch when delivered.

  • Don’t pre-print your Social Security number or your driver’s license number on your checks.

  • Store statements and checks in a safe place.

  • Never put your account number on the outside of any envelope.

  • Never send your credit card number to anyone via e-mail.

  • When possible, use secure online services.

  • Remove all delivered mail from mailboxes as soon as possible. Place outgoing mail in post office collection boxes, NEVER clip outgoing mail to your home mailbox.

  • When making purchases online, be sure you are on a secure Web site before entering your credit card number. One indication of a secure site is the “padlock” symbol in the lower right-hand portion of the page.

 

See the Identity Theft Site of the Federal Trade Commission for more information.

 

If you are a victim

If you are a victim of identity theft:

  • Step One is to call the Constable’s office, at which time an officer will be dispatched with an Identity Theft Packet. You are entitled to a full offense report, including the investigator’s notes, which is helpful when dealing with banks and crediting agencies.
  • Step Two is to notify your banks and/or the credit bureaus.
  • Step Three is to list yourself as a victim on the local ID-Theft Task Force Website, found in Constable’s ID-Theft Packet. This listing enables investigators to better examine your situation. In addition, the more names found on the list, the more easily it will be for the Task Force to justify its existence and obtain city funding.