Friday, April 18, 2014

Prevent Identity Theft

SAINT PAUL, MN – The Minnesota Department of Commerce warns consumers who suspect their personal data may have been stolen to protect themselves against identity theft. Minnesotans who suspect their information may have fallen into the wrong hands need to be vigilant in monitoring their accounts and to act quickly to minimize damage to their credit reports and lessen financial losses.

If you suspect your bank account, card number, and personal information has been stolen, it is necessary to monitor your accounts for fraudulent activity. Additionally, check your credit report to ensure that no new unauthorized cards, lines of credit, or loans are taken out under your name.

What proactive steps can I take to protect personal information?

  • Before revealing personal information, find out how it will be used. Ask whether it will be shared with other companies. Many businesses will provide you with their "privacy policy."

  • Never give personal information over the phone or email. Most businesses that need bank account information, passwords or credit card numbers already have all the information they need and will not call or email a request for more information.

  • Check your credit report once a year. Credit reports show your credit history, including the number of loan requests and whether it's for credit cards, auto loans or mortgages. Make sure the report is accurate, and write a letter noting any mistakes.
    • There are three major credit bureaus that provide credit reports for a nominal fee, and there may be variations in each report: Equifax, 800-685-1111, Experian, 888-EXPERIAN, and Trans Union, 800-916-8800.

  • Pay attention to billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if bills don't arrive on time.

  • Take your receipts. If a store payment is made by credit card, some receipts list the full card number. Do not dispose of the receipt in a public place

  • Have new checks delivered to the bank.

  • Use passwords whenever possible. Avoid using passwords that contain easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date or the last four digits of your Social Security Number. Use a different password for each account. Do not store written passwords in purses or wallets where credit cards are kept.

  • Minimize the amount of personal information you carry. Do not store Social Security cards, passports or birth certificates in purses or wallets.

  • Write down credit card names and numbers and store them in a safe place. It's important to cancel your credit cards immediately if they've been stolen.

  • Guard the mailbox from theft.

  • Tear up junk mail. If you receive pre-screened credit card or mortgage offers in the mail, tear them up if you decide not to accept the offer. In a method called "dumpster diving," thieves scour trash bins for personal information.

  • Only use secure Internet sites for e-commerce. Look for a small yellow "padlock" in the toolbar and "https" in the web address.

  • It is important to simply know who you are dealing with. Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact

How to recover your identity:
After identity theft occurs, it is critical to document all conversations and correspondence with the companies and agencies helping to reestablish your personal information. Steps to repair your personal information may vary depending on what crime occurred, but in most cases there are a few basic steps to take:

  1. Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus. Tell them that you're an identity theft victim, and request a "fraud alert" on your file. Ask creditors to call you before approving any new accounts or changing your existing accounts.

  1. Ask the bureaus for a copy of your credit report, which is usually free if the report is inaccurate due to fraud. Check the area that lists "inquiries," and if loan or credit requests appear that you did not make, ask that those inquiries be removed. Order new reports in a few months to be sure that the information was removed, because it can negatively affect your credit score.

  1. Contact the credit card companies for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each creditor, and also notify them with a letter. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new accounts with new PINs and passwords.

  1. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Be sure to obtain a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card company or others need proof of the crime. Even if the police can't find the identity thief, having a copy of the police report will be helpful when dealing with creditors.

5.    The Federal Trade Commission collects complaints about identity theft from consumers who have been victimized. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, the commission can help victims of identity theft by providing information to assist them in resolving the financial and other problems that can result from this crime. The FTC also refers victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action.

For more information, or if you've been a victim of identity theft and need to file a complaint, contact the FTC: by telephone, call the Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502; by mail, write to Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or online, go to

This month, the University of Minnesota Extension, Center for Family Development and the Minnesota Department of Commerce collaborated on a set of five guides to help Minnesotans start on the path to financial security.  The guide, How is your Credit?provides a wide variety of resources to help protect or repair credit.