Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

January, 2004

Technology Talk

"Identity Theft"

By John Anderson

Now that the holiday season is over, you may wish to pay careful attention to the bills and bank statements that you receive. The holidays are a very hectic time, but it is also when you are most vulnerable to theft. You might walk out of the store with everything you came in with (and probably more), but you might have inadvertently allowed someone to make off with enough information to seal your identity.

This type of theft has much more far reaching effects than a simple pickpocket or purse-snatcher. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years cleaning up the mess that thieves have made of their good name and credit record. Victims of identity theft may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. The worst part is that you may not even know about it for months or even years.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.

You also may be at greater risk than ever before. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America; 9.9 million victims were reported last year according to a Federal Trade Commission survey!

How can you prevent these thieves from obtaining credit or credit cards from banks and retailers, stealing money from your accounts, applying for loans, establishing accounts with utility companies, renting an apartment, filing bankruptcy or obtaining a job using your name?

  1. Buy a shredder. Shred all your important papers and especially pre-approved credit applications received in your name and other financial information that provides access to your private information. Don’t forget to shred your credit card receipts.
  2. Make sure that you do not throw anything away that someone could use to become you. Anything with your identifiers must be shredded before throwing away.
  3. Be watchful at ATMs and when using phone cards.
  4. Do not put checks in the mail from your home mailbox. Drop them off at a U.S. Mailbox or the U.S. Post Office. Mail theft is common.
  5. When you order new credit cards, watch the calendar to make sure that you get the card within the appropriate time.
  6. Empty your wallet of all extra credit cards and Social Security numbers, etc. Do not carry any identifiers you do not need. Don’t carry your birth certificate, Social Security card or passport unless necessary.
  7. Never give out any of your personal information over the phone to people you don’t know or don’t trust.
  8. Monitor all your statements from every credit card every month. Check to see if there is anything that you do not recognize and call the credit grantor to verify that it is truly yours.
  9. Order your credit report at least once a year and review it carefully. If you see anything that appears fraudulent, immediately put a fraud alert on your report. Immediately correct all mistakes on your credit reports in writing.
  10. Make a list of all your credit card account numbers and bank account numbers with customer service phone numbers, and keep it in a safe place.

Some Other Helpful Tips

  • Generally speaking, federal law says that the victim of credit or banking fraud is liable for only the first $50 of losses if you notify financial institutions within two days of learning of the loss.
  • If you’re a victim of identity fraud or if you have been denied credit, insurance or employment because of something on your credit report, you’re entitled to a free credit report.
  • Don’t pay any bills that are not yours even if you think it’s going to make your life easier.
  • Even though your Social Security number may have been used by the identity thief, don’t change it! That will only make you look more suspicious to future creditors. Your new number will be attached to your credit report along with the old numbers and that may cause delays in obtaining new credit.
  • If collection companies continue to harass you after you have written letters explaining the circumstances of the fraud, inform them that they’re violating the law and keep documentation so you may take legal action if they persist.

There are several organizations that can assist you before or after you have an experience with identity theft. These organizations support victims, broaden public awareness and disseminate information about this crime, working to decrease the population of potential victims.

Credit Reporting Bureaus

  • Equifax
    Order Report: (800) 685-1111
    Fraud: (888) 525-6285
    Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc
    P.O. Box 105069
    Atlanta, GA 30374
  • Experian (formerly TRW)
    Order Report: (888) 524-3606 or (888) EXPERIAN
    Fraud: (888) 397-3742
    P.O. Box 2104
    Allen, TX 75013-2104
  • Trans Union Corporation
    Order Report: (800) 888-4213
    Fraud: (800) 680-7289
    TransUnion LLC
    Consumer Disclosure Center
    P.O. Box 1000
    Chester, PA 19022

(Note: The Credit Reporting Agencies change their addresses and phone numbers often. Please double-check the Agencies’ websites if you think the information provided here may be in error.)



Publications : Bar Bulletin: January, 2004

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