Identity Theft

Identity Theft: What You Need to Know

Our personal identity is the most important financial asset we have. We use our identity to qualify for credit and make purchases. Our ability to obtain credit depends on the good financial reputation that we have worked all our lives to build and maintain.

But losing control over our personal information can happen in an instant, and without even our knowledge. You may not find out until after the damage has been done and you are contacted by creditors seeking to collect money from you for things you never purchased. After you find out, it can be an expensive and frustrating experience to repair the damage done to your financial reputation.

When it comes to “identity theft,” an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s far better to avoid problems before your personal information has been compromised, money has been lost and your credit needs to be repaired. Follow the links below for information to help you avoid problems.

Click here to download the Identity Theft Fact Sheet.

Articles & Press Releases

Identity theft: Ounce of prevention worth pound of cure – Herald-Times, October 19, 2009

GUEST COLUMN
Identity theft: Ounce of prevention worth pound of cure
By Chris Gaal
October 19, 2009

This guest column is by Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Gaal.

Our personal identity is the most important financial asset we have. We use our identity to qualify for credit and make purchases. Our ability to obtain credit depends on the good financial reputation that we have worked all our lives to build and maintain.

But losing control over our personal information can happen in an instant, and without even our knowledge. You may not find out until after the damage has been done and you are contacted by creditors seeking to collect money from you for things you never purchased. After you find out, it can be an expensive and frustrating experience to repair the damage done to your financial reputation.

When it comes to “identity theft,” an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s far better to avoid problems before your personal information has been compromised, money has been lost and your credit needs to be repaired. Here are some tips to help you avoid problems.

Keep your wallet or purse in a safe place, including at the workplace. A thief can’t steal your personal information if it is not accessible. Don’t carry all of your credit cards in your wallet, just the ones you actually use.

Make copies of personal information and credit cards that you do carry and put them in a safe place such as a locked filing cabinet in your home. You can use the copies to help you easily contact creditors if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Don’t carry your Social Security card. It is rare to need your Social Security card, so leave it at home in a safe place. Don’t write down your Personal Identification Number on anything you carry with you in your wallet. That just makes it easy for a thief to withdraw money from your account or get a cash advance.

When you mail your bills, don’t just leave them in your street mailbox for pickup where they could be easily accessed by strangers. It’s safer to mail them at the post office or put them in a postal drop box. Also, remove your mail promptly once it has been delivered.

If you are planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 800-275-8777 and request a vacation hold. If you want to stop receiving unsolicited credit card offers in the mail, call 888- 5-OPTOUT.

Many identity thefts actually occur in the home — from acquaintances or even people who were invited in to do work. Sensitive personal information and financial records should not be left out where they can be easily seen by others. Instead, secure them in a safe place such as a locked filing cabinet.

Invest in a paper shredder to safely destroy documents containing sensitive personal information. This will prevent a thief from going through your trash or recycling and obtaining personal information from documents such as receipts, credit card offers, bank records and health care bills.

An important part of protecting yourself from identity theft is to obtain copies of your credit reports to ensure that information is accurate and to detect fraudulent transactions. Each nationwide consumer reporting company must provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months. For routine monitoring of your credit reports you should request your free annual credit reports through the Annual Credit Report Request Service at (877) 322-8228 or www.annualcreditreport.com.

The good news is that we are not helpless against identity theft. Much reported identity theft involves simple credit and debit card fraud. Often these situations can be resolved quickly and easily over the phone. For more complicated cases, you may have to contact creditors to dispute fraudulent debts, consumer credit reporting companies to repair your credit report, and law enforcement to file a report.

If you want to learn more about how to safeguard your personal information and protect yourself from identity theft, and what to do if you become a victim, the Office of the Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney has just produced a new educational video and fact sheet titled “Identity Theft: What You Need To Know.”

You can download the video at http://www.monroeprosecutor.us/prevention-education/crimes-against-the-elderly/identity-theft, or call 349-2670 for a free copy. Working together, we can prevent identity theft and build a safer community.

Identity theft: Ounce of prevention worth pound of cure – Press Release

For Immediate Release
October 15, 2009
For More Information, contact:
Chris Gaal, Office of the Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney, 349-2670

IDENTITY THEFT: OUNCE OF PREVENTION WORTH POUND OF CURE

Bloomington, IN – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s the message of Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Gaal when it comes to identity theft. “It’s far better to avoid problems before your personal information has been compromised, money has been lost, and your credit needs to be repaired,” says Gaal in a new public education video produced by the Elder Crimes Task Force, a project of the prosecutor’s office.

“Our personal identity is the most important financial asset we have,” says Gaal. “We use it to qualify for credit and make purchases. Losing control over our personal information can happen in an instant and without even our knowledge.” The video is intended to help local citizens learn how to safeguard their personal information and protect themselves from identity theft. It also explains what to do if you do become the victim of identity theft – how to dispute fraudulent debts and repair your credit record.

The video features Monroe County Sheriff Jim Kennedy, who explains, “Identity theft occurs when personal information belonging to someone else is taken and used in a fraudulent manner.” Kennedy describes the most common methods used by identity thieves, and also provides tips for protecting privacy on the telephone and computer.

Wendy Scott, a former detective with the Bloomington Police Department and now Director of Adult Protective Services appears in the video to suggest tips for preventing identity theft, “A thief can’t steal your identity if your personal and financial information is protected, and there are several things you can do to minimize your risk.” Scott’s suggestions include keeping your wallet or purse in a safe place, not carrying your social security card, not writing down your PIN number, using strong and unique passwords, safeguarding your mail, securing financial records in the home, and buying a paper shredder.

Jamie Andree, an attorney with Indiana Legal Services, an organization that provides free legal assistance to low-income and people age sixty and older, explains how to obtain and monitor free annual credit reports, “An important part of protecting yourself from identity theft is to obtain copies of your credit reports to ensure that information is accurate and to detect fraudulent transactions,” says Andree.

The final section of the video provides a checklist for what to do if you become the victim of identity theft. “It can be an expensive and frustrating experience to repair the damage done to your good financial reputation,” warns Gaal. “But the good news is that we are not powerless,” he adds. According to the video, much reported identity theft involves simple credit and debit card fraud. Often these situations can be resolved quickly and easily over the phone. More complicated cases may require contacting creditors to dispute fraudulent claims, consumer credit reporting companies to repair your credit report, and law enforcement to file a report.

The video also describes resources available to help consumers who have problems with identity theft, including the Indiana Attorney General’s Identity Theft Unit and the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline.

In addition to airing on community access television, the Office of the Monroe Count Prosecuting Attorney will be distributing free DVD copies of the film to social service groups, churches and other organizations concerned with the needs of the elderly. Organizations wishing to receive a free copy can contact the Office of the Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney at (812) 349-2670, or watch the video by visiting http://www.monroeprosecutor.us/prevention-education/crimes-against-the-elderly/identity-theft.