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Released: January 22, 2008

No One Immune to Identity Theft

MANHATTAN, Kan. – According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in the U.S., more than 10 million people experienced identity theft in 2005.

Nearly 30 million people have been affected by identity theft in the last five years, said Marilyn Bischoff, Extension family economics specialist at the University of Idaho, Boise.

Tips for Reporting
and Recovering From Identity Theft

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that 54 percent of the victims of identity theft uncover the theft while monitoring their own accounts, said Marilyn Bischoff, Extension family economics specialist, University of Idaho, Boise.

Twenty-six percent are alerted by companies they previously have done business with, and 8 percent learned of the theft when refused credit, she said.

If identity theft is suspected, Bischoff advised:

* Notify bank and credit card companies immediately; place a “fraud alert” on accounts;

* Stop payment on outstanding checks;

* Change passwords and PIN numbers;

* Request new ATM cards, and

* File a police report.

Victims of identity theft also may need to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-ID-THEFT; local Department of Motor Vehicles (if a driver’s license is involved); Internal Revenue Service; Passport office; Social Security Administration; and U.S. Postal Service.

Note the date, time, and name of the person identity theft is being reported to establish a paper trail, Bischoff said.

More information on managing money and protecting personal information is available by contacting any county or district
K-State Research and Extension office.

As one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S., Bischoff said that identity theft typically occurs when someone else uses another’s personal information.

Such theft may include obtaining cash, credit, or a loan using another’s identity, said Bischoff, speaking to K-State Research and Extension agents at Kansas State University.

No one is immune – one Michigan family recently reported receiving two background check calls for credit card applications in an aunt’s name less than a week after her funeral.

Information for the applications had been taken from an obituary in the local newspaper.

Accessing others’ personal information can occur if a wallet or purse is stolen; credit card information is copied or stolen during a transaction or other everyday activities such as employment or contract services such as a hospital stay or school enrollment; stolen during a robbery or in-home service call; or result when an erroneous change of address is reported.

Some identity thieves are successful in using random Social Security numbers; others may dive into dumpsters for trash or steal mail, Bischoff said.

About half of those who steal another’s identity know the victims of their theft, she said.

Identity thieves may use others’ information to sign checks or make withdrawals from financial accounts; obtain credit cards; set up utility or other services, apply for employment or access Social Security benefits.

Victims of identity theft may be denied employment or turned down for services such as a telephone, utility or a loan, said Bischoff, who offered tips for reducing the risk of identity theft:

* Memorize your Social Security number, but don’t use it as an identification number on bank checks, insurance or other cards.

* Ask questions. If – or when – asked to provide your Social Security number, ask: How will this number be used? How will this number be protected? And, is giving my Social Security number necessary?

* Add passwords to credit and debit cards, bank accounts and phone or online accounts. Also, be creative when choosing a password. Bischoff does not recommend using a maiden name, birth date, last four digits of a Social Security or telephone number, street address or postal ZIP code.

* Add a photo ID to credit and debit cards.

* Protect credit cards and checks from others’ view, and total receipts, rather than leaving empty spaces that can be filled in after you have completed a transaction.

* Hang on to receipts, rather than putting them in a bag with a purchase. Use them to verify the accuracy of your bill.

* Shred bills and other personal information before disposal.

* Don’t share personal information over the telephone, through the mail or via the Internet unless you initiated the call and know why a business or service needs the information.

* Evaluate offers of a free prize, trip or potential windfall that require personal information to be eligible.

* Remove personal information and identification from a purse, pockets in clothing, or electronics such as a computer, before discarding them.

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K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Nancy Peterson
nancyp@oznet.ksu.edu
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Marilyn Bischoff is at mbischof@uidaho.edu