Over the past several years, identity theft has been on the rise. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in 2014, approximately 17.6 million persons, or about 7 percent of U.S. residents age 16 or older, were victims of identity theft. Anyone can fall victim to identity theft; however, statistics show that females are victimized more than males, that the victimization of the elderly is on the rise, and that the highest prevalence of identity theft occurred with respect to individuals in households with an annual income of $75,000.00 or more. Two thirds of identity theft victims suffer a direct financial loss and some experience severe emotional distress from being victimized.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office is making a concerted effort to combat identity theft in Monmouth County. This page is designed to present the residents of Monmouth County with the information they need to protect themselves from this type of crime.
WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal identifying information for his or her own personal gain. This includes things such as using your credit card number to make unauthorized charges, opening credit cards in your name and not paying the bills, opening bank accounts in your name, taking out loans in your name, establishing phone, wireless or Internet service in your name, or using your name for other purposes such as obtaining government benefits or providing false information to police during an investigation or traffic stop.
HOW DOES IDENTITY THEFT HAPPEN?
The majority of identity theft victims did not know the offender at all, let alone know how the individual obtained their personal information. Identity thieves employ many different methods to obtain someone’s personal information. Some of these methods are increasingly high-tech, though most are simple and easy to accomplish. Below are the most common methods identity thieves use to steal your personal information:
- Stealing your wallet or purse.
- Stealing your personal information from your home.
- Stealing your mail.
- Obtaining the information from a business (such as your bank, credit card company, or stores you frequent) by stealing it while they work, bribing employees, or hacking the company’s records.
- Posing as someone who has a legal right to your information, such as a landlord or an employer, to get your credit report.
- “Skimming” – capturing your credit or debit card number in a data storage device attached to a credit card machine or ATM.
- “Phishing”/”Pretexting” – posing as a legitimate company that needs your information, either on the phone or online.
- “Dumpster Diving” – rummaging through disposed of trash for personal information (i.e. financial statements or credit card receipts, etc.)
In 2014, an estimated 6 in 7 U.S. residents took actions to prevent identity theft, but given the rise in identity theft crimes, we all can and should do more. To protect yourself from falling victim to identity theft:
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IDENTITY THEFT?
- Review your financial and account statements promptly and carefully.
- Review your credit report regularly. You have the right to obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit reporting companies each year. Requesting your free copy from one company every four months allows you to closely monitor your credit report.
- Password protect your accounts.
- Secure your personal information inside your home.
- Secure your personal information in cyberspace. Do not post information such as your date of birth, social security number, pet’s name or high school name on public social networking sites. This information can easily be used by identity thieves to steal your identity.
- Ask about information security procedures at work and other institutions that collect your information.
- Be cautious about who you give your information to. Verify that the person you are speaking with is affiliated with the business, whether on the phone or online.
- Put mail in postal collection boxes or drop it off at the local post office instead of leaving it in your mailbox at home. Remove incoming mail from your mailbox promptly and consider using a locked mailbox.
- Shred credit card receipts, bank statements, and other items bearing your personal information before disposing them.
- Safely dispose of other items containing your personal information, such as computers and mobile devices. If possible, wipe these devices of all data prior to disposing of them.
- Only provide your Social Security Number when absolutely necessary.
- Be aware of your surroundings when using ATMs. Only use bank ATMs; avoid the stand-alone machines.
- Consider opting out of receiving pre-screened mail offers for credit and insurance. You can opt out by calling 1-888-567-8688 or visiting http://www.optoutprescreen.com. You can choose to opt out for a five-year period or permanently. If you choose to opt out, you can subsequently opt in to resume receiving pre-screened mail offers. This service is offered and operated by the three nationwide credit reporting companies. If you have become a victim of identity theft:
WHAT IF YOU HAVE BEEN VICTIMIZED?
- File a report with your local police department. (In New Jersey, your local police department is required to take your complaint and provide you with a copy of the report. N.J.S.A. 2C:21-17.6)
- Place a security freeze on your credit report with all three credit reporting agencies. N.J.S.A. 56:11-46, et. seq. A security freeze will prevent your credit report from being accessed by most potential creditors. For more information on placing a security freeze on your credit reports, and the consequences of the freeze, please visit the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance “Security Freeze” page at http://www.state.nj.us/dobi/creditfreeze.htm
- Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission.
WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION? HOW DO I CONTACT THESE AGENCIES?
Federal Trade Commission
You can file a complaint online at https://www.identitytheft.gov/ or call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at 1 877/ IDTHEFT (1 877/438-4338); TTY 1 866/ 653-4261.
Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies
- Equifax www.equifax.com; Consumer Fraud Division: 1-888-766-0008
- Experian – www.experian.com; National Consumer Assistance: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion – www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Department: 1-800-680-7289
Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
To receive your annual free credit report contact:
- Annual Credit Report Request Service at www.annualcreditreport.com; P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5281