A Message From Attorney General Steve Rowe About Identity Theft
September 24, 2007
Today's technology provides us with extraordinary benefits. It has given us the ability to conduct business online, share information about ourselves with those who live thousands of miles away and access information at the "speed of light." Unfortunately, it has also provided the same benefits to identity thieves who use someone else's personal financial information to access bank accounts and obtain credit, often destroying the life savings and good credit history of innocent victims.
As our access to information increases, our concerns about financial privacy should increase as well. Identity theft has increased so dramatically that the Federal Trade Commission has listed it as the top fraud-related consumer complaint for the past five years, with consumers reporting million of dollars lost to fraud. One non-profit organization has tracked significant security breaches of personal information since February, 2005 and shows millions of people who are potentially at risk for identity theft. The following is provided to help you protect your financial privacy and the steps to follow if you have become an identity theft victim.
Steps You Can Take To Protect Your Financial Privacy
Your date of birth, name and social security number are all the information a thief needs to steal your identity. If you are contacted by phone, mail or email and asked to provide any of these, first ask yourself: "Would I give the key to my home, the key to my vehicle or my checkbook to this person?" If the answer to any of these questions is "No" - don't provide the information.
1. Be cautious with your mail. Don't leave mail in your mailbox or where strangers may have access to it. Don't include personal financial information or social security numbers in email. You can add your name to the Direct Marketing Association's "Do Not Mail" list by calling them at 212-790-1500, writing to them at 1615 L St. NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20036-3603 or registering on their website at: http://www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html
2. Make certain that information about you and/or the account number is not legible before throwing away any financial statements. Either use a shredder or a marking pen to black out the pertinent information. Review all account statements carefully to be sure that all transactions are familiar to you.
3. Monitor your credit reports. Every resident of Maine is entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus once a year. To obtain your credit reports, call 1-877-322-8228 or visit www.annualcreditreport.com. Review these reports carefully and make certain that there is nothing on any report that should not be there.
4. Do not give any personal information to anyone over the telephone or the internet. If you are asked for this information, a quick phone call to the bank or business security department will verify if the information is needed. DO NOT take the phone number from the person who is calling and call them back at the number they provide. Don't be fooled by internet messages asking for personal information. They may seem to be from your bank or some other legitimate organization, but they are not. Banks never ask for personal information over the internet or the phone. You can register for the Do Not Call List by contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.donotcall.gov or call toll-free, 1-888-382-1222 (TTY 1-866-290-4236), from the number you wish to register. Registration is free.
5. Use the "opt out" choice with your creditors and banks. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act limits these institutions from providing some of your private financial information to other companies if you notify them that you wish to opt out. The kinds of information that can be provided include account balances, transaction histories and information about debit or credit card purchases. Each creditor or bank must notify you once a year and offer you the option of opting out and provide you with clear instructions about their procedure for doing so. Contact your creditors and financial institutions and ask about their policies for opting out.
Credit bureaus also share your credit information with companies who want to offer you financial services. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can have your name removed from these lists and reduce solicitations for pre-approved credit cards by calling 888-567-8688. For more detailed information about the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, or about opting out, visit http://www.ftc.gov/privacy/privacyinitiatives/glbact.html
For more detailed information about the Fair Credit Reporting Act, visit http://www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fcrajump.htm
For more information about the specific provisions of Financial Privacy laws, visit http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs24-finpriv.htm
6. Be extremely careful when making purchases over the internet. If you are making an internet purchase, try to use a secure purchasing account that doesn't reveal your credit card number. Do not authorize a payment from your bank account or provide the seller with your account number or social security number. If you have to make a payment using a card, be certain to use a credit card rather than a debit card. When using the internet to conduct business, make certain that the website is secure and the seller is reputable. If you are unfamiliar with the seller, contact the local Better Business Bureau or the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's office in the state where the business is located. When you are unfamiliar with an internet seller, don't spend more money than you can safely afford to lose.
Financial Privacy Makeover
Quick Financial Privacy "Makeover"
Take these simple steps to make your financial information more secure:
DO NOT MAIL LIST
Have your name added and reduce junk mail.
Direct Marketing Association
1615 L St. NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20036
DO NOT CALL LIST
Have your name added and reduce unwanted phone calls.
Federal Trade Commission
FREE CREDIT REPORTS
Request one from each bureau every year
CREDIT CARD SOLICITATION
Have your name removed from pre-approved credit card mailings
FREEZE YOUR CREDIT REPORT
For a slight fee no one can receive credit information about you.
CREDITORS AND BANKS
"Opt Out" so your financial information remains private.
CONTACT EACH INDIVIDUALLY
What To Do If You Are A Victim Of Identity Theft
Identity theft is a crime which generally results in fraud. If you believe you have become a victim of identity theft, you must act immediately to minimize the damage and to secure your legal rights. Fighting identity theft can be frustrating and time-consuming, but resources exist to help you.
- Contact any of the three consumer reporting companies below.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Contacting one of the three companies above automatically alerts the other two companies which will also place an alert in their records.
When you call, an initial fraud alert (90 days) will be placed on your credit report and a free copy of your credit report will be sent to you. The fraud alert prevents any new accounts from being opened in your name without your permission. After the initial fraud alert has expired, if you have filed a police report, you can request an extended fraud alert (7 years.) To obtain an extended fraud alert, you must provide the credit reporting companies with a copy of your initial police report and any other fraud reports they may require.
As of February, 2006, Maine became one of several states to allow consumers to "freeze" their credit reports. With certain specific exceptions, a security freeze prohibits a credit reporting agency from releasing your credit report or any information from it without your express authorization. The freeze goes into effect five (5) business days after the credit reporting agency has received your letter. After 10 business days from receiving your letter to place a freeze on your account, the credit reporting agencies will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep this PIN or password in a safe place. If your credit files are frozen, even someone who has your name and Social Security number probably would not be able to obtain credit in your name. A security freeze is free to identity theft victims who have a police report, investigative report or a complaint to a law enforcement agency concerning identity theft.
To place a freeze, you must write to each of the three credit bureaus. Download a sample letter requesting a security freeze (MS Word). Credit bureaus charge a $10 fee, unless you are a victim who sends a copy of your police report, investigative report or a complaint to a law enforcement agency concerning identity theft.
- Report the crime immediately to local law enforcement. Make sure a written report is taken and that you receive a copy of the police report so that you can give copies to creditors. If local law enforcement will not give you a copy of your report, contact the Attorney General at 626-8800.
- Contact any creditors or financial institutions if you believe your accounts have been tampered with or if fraudulent accounts have been opened. Close the accounts and ask for a fraud investigation. If you contact them initially by phone, make sure that you confirm your conversation in writing. Download a sample letter you can use to dispute a fraudulent account or charge (MS Word). Some companies have forms you can use to dispute the charges due to fraud but in most cases, the dispute must take place within sixty days of the initial fraud. When speaking with creditors or financial institutions, you have the right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to receive copies of transaction records. These companies are required by law to send you any documents they have within 30 days. They may require an identity theft affidavit and a police report from you. You can then use a copy of the creditor's transaction record to provide evidence that can identify the thief to your local police.
Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the business that sent the information to the consumer reporting company), such as a bank or credit card company, are responsible for correcting fraudulent information in your report. To protect your rights under the law, contact both the consumer reporting company and the information provider.
- Steps to take if the identity theft has resulted in a fraudulent electronic withdrawal from your account:
- The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides consumer protections for transactions involving an ATM or debit card, or another electronic way to debit or credit an account. It also limits your liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers.
- You have 60 days from the date your bank account statement is sent to you to report in writing any money withdrawn from your account without your permission. This includes instances when your ATM or debit card is "skimmed" that is, when a thief captures your account number and PIN without your card having been lost or stolen.
- If your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately because the amount you can be held responsible for depends on how quickly you report the loss.
- If you report the loss or theft within two business days of discovery, your losses are limited to $50.
- If you report the loss or theft after two business days, but within 60 days after the unauthorized electronic fund transfer appears on your statement, you could lose up to $500 of what the thief withdraws.
- If you wait more than 60 days to report the loss or theft, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account after the end of the 60 days.
- Note: VISA and MasterCard voluntarily have agreed to limit consumers' liability for unauthorized use of their debit cards in most instances to $50 per card, no matter how much time has elapsed since the discovery of the loss or theft of the card.
The best way to protect yourself in the event of an error or fraudulent transaction is to call the financial institution and follow up in writing by certified letter, return receipt requested so you can prove when the institution received your letter. Keep a copy of the letter you send for your records.
After receiving your notification about an error on your statement, the institution generally has 10 business days to investigate. The institution must tell you the results of its investigation within three business days after completing it and must correct an error within one business day after determining that it occurred. If the institution needs more time, it may take up to 45 days to complete the investigation but only if the money in dispute is returned to your account and you are notified promptly of the credit. At the end of the investigation, if no error has been found, the institution may take the money back if it sends you a written explanation.
- Steps to take if the identity theft has occurred due to fraudulent checks and other "paper" transactions:
In general, if an identity thief steals your checks or counterfeits checks from your existing bank account, you must notify the bank to stop payment, close the account, and ask your bank to notify Chex Systems, Inc. or the check verification service with which it does business. That way, retailers can be notified not to accept these checks. While no federal law limits your losses if someone uses your checks with a forged signature, or uses another type of "paper" transaction such as a demand draft, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from such transactions. At the same time, most states require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.
You can contact major check verification companies directly for the following services:
- To request that they notify retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks, call:
- TeleCheck at 1-800-710-9898 or 1-800-927-0188
Certegy, Inc. (previously Equifax Check Systems) at 1-800-437-5120
- To find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name, call SCAN: 1-800-262-7771
- If your checks are rejected by a merchant, it may be because an identity thief is using the Magnetic Information Character Recognition (MICR) code (the numbers at the bottom of checks), your driver's license number, or another identification number. The merchant who rejects your check should give you its check verification company contact information so you can find out what type of information the thief is using.
- If you find that the thief is using your MICR code, ask your bank to close your checking account, and open a new one. If you discover that the thief is using your driver's license number or some other identification number, work with your Bureau of Motor Vehicles or other identification issuing agency to get new identification with new numbers. Once you have taken the appropriate steps, your checks should be accepted. The check verification company may or may not remove the information about the MICR code or the driver's license/identification number from its database because this information may help prevent the thief from continuing to commit fraud. If the checks are being passed on a new account, contact the bank to close the account. Also contact Chex Systems, Inc., to review your consumer report to make sure that no other bank accounts have been opened in your name. Dispute any bad checks passed in your name with merchants so they don't start any collections actions against you.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.) You can file a report by visiting https://rn.ftc.gov/pls/dod/widtpubl$.startup?ZORGCODE=PU03
To find out more about your rights, specific laws and sample forms that can be used if you are a victim of identity theft, visit http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/con_steps.htm
For a sample Identity Theft Affidavit you can use, visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/
- Contact the 3 credit reporting agencies using the form they provide to correct errors and place a block on the accounts in question. The Fair Credit Reporting Act mandates that they must remove the information unless the credit issuer can prove that it is true. The credit reporting agencies must also change any information provided by the thief including addresses, phone numbers or birthdates. Download a sample letter requesting a block on the accounts (MS Word).
- Insist on Clearance letters from the creditors and/or credit reporting bureaus and keep them in your records for 10 years.
- Carefully check all credit reports to monitor the corrections.
Maine Attorney General Consumer Protection Division - 207-626-8849, or visit firstname.lastname@example.org
Maine Office of Consumer Credit Regulation - (207) 624-8527
Toll Free consumer line (Maine only) 1-800-332-8529, 35 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04330-0035
Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles - (To report stolen driver's license.) Call 207-624-9000 extension 52144, write to 29 State House Station Augusta, Maine 04333 or visit the website at http://www.maine.gov/sos/bmv/index.html
Federal Do Not Call Registry: You can register online at www.donotcall.gov or call toll-free, 1-888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register.
Federal Trade Commission Hotline (1-877-ID-THEFT).
Tax Fraud - IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service www.irs.gov/advocate/ or call toll-free: 1-877-777-4778
Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of the Inspector General - You may file a complaint online at www.socialsecurity.gov/oig, call toll-free: 1-800-269-0271, fax: 410-597-0118, or write: SSA Fraud Hotline, P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235.
For non-cellular phones, call the Maine Public Utilities Commission Consumer Assistance Hotline at 1-800-452-4699.
For cellular phones and long distance, contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at www.fcc.gov. The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. Call: 1-888-CALL-FCC; TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC; or write: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer Information Bureau, 445 12th Street, SW, Room 5A863, Washington, DC 20554. You can file complaints online at www.fcc.gov, or e-mail your questions to email@example.com.
Mail Theft - The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service and investigates cases of identity theft. The USPIS has primary jurisdiction in all matters infringing on the integrity of the U.S. mail. If an identity thief has stolen your mail to get new credit cards, bank or credit card statements, pre-screened credit offers, or tax information, or has falsified change-of-address forms or obtained your personal information through a fraud conducted by mail, report it by calling the U. S. Postal Inspector at 207-871-8587 or by writing: U. S. Postal Inspector, State of Maine, 125 Forest Avenue, Portland, ME 04104