Credit cards and internet shopping are excellent modern-day conveniences, but both generate major financial headaches if they lead to identity theft. The city Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Office of Financial Empowerment offers basic information about this widespread crime. DCA also provides tips for victims of identity theft.
How Fraud Happens: Some thieves simply pick through your trash, looking for discarded bank or credit card statements. Some steal your mail. In what is known as "skimming," some thieves make a duplicate imprint of your card and sell the number to third parties, who then make internet or telephone purchases. Others try random groups of numbers until they find one that matches an account in good standing. Some thieves hack into computer databases -- or, by way of e-mail attachments, your own laptop -- to steal sensitive information, including Social Security numbers, dates of birth and passwords.
accounts appear on your credit report.
--Your statements show unexplained withdrawals or other activity.
--You've stopped receiving bills, statements or other important mail.
--You're receiving calls from collection agencies about items or services you didn't buy.
What to do: According to DCA, you should do four things right away:
--Place a fraud alert on your credit report with one of the three major credit bureaus
--Close all fraudulent accounts.
--File a police report.
--File your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Never give account numbers over the phone unless you initiate the call and know that the company is reputable. Never provide information when, for example, someone calls about a "computer problem" that requires you to verify privileged information. Similarly, beware of "fraud investigators" who want your account numbers, deposit information or security codes. Hang up and call your bank or the toll-free number on the back of your credit card to see if there's a problem with your account.
Similarly, never respond to e-mails that request credit card or bank verification. And never respond to e-mails that direct you to a website to verify similar information, even if the site looks legitimate. This known as "phishing."
Protect your account numbers. A cross-cut paper shredder is a good investment, and shredding documents before recycling is an excellent habit. Cut expired credit cards into small pieces, and shred credit card "convenience checks" or offers of new credit cards.
Be especially careful when setting up passwords. Don't write passwords or a personal identification number (PIN) on credit cards or even on a slip of paper in your wallet, since your wallet could get stolen. Instead, keep a list of all account numbers and expiration dates in a secure place, along with the telephone numbers of issuing banks. Some consumer advocates recommend that you carry bank cards and credit cards separate from your wallet -- and that you never carry more than you need.
Regularly check your transaction records online rather than wait for monthly statements. This will quickly apprise you of any unauthorized activity.
DCA also provides information on how to spot a scam. Additionally, a great deal of substantive material relating to identity theft is available online. For example, the FBI provides a list of tips regarding credit card fraud and how to prevent it. The Federal Trade Commission also provides many tips on how to avoid fraud. Consumer-oriented groups such as ScamBusters.org, unaffiliated with government agencies, provide useful information on how to thwart credit card fraudsters.
Finally, you may want to check out the not-for-profit National Consumers League Fraud Center. And, of course, you may call the Office of the Public Advocate at 212-669-7250.