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Identity Theft

Protect Your Financial Identity
from the ABA Education Foundation

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing types of financial fraud. Without stealing your wallet, a crook can steal your financial identity with as little information as your social security number. It is also called "account-takeover fraud" or "true-name fraud," and it involves crooks' assuming your identity by applying for credit, running up huge bills and stiffing creditors - all in your name.

Take these steps to protect yourself:

1. Order copies of your credit report once a year to ensure they are accurate. You can call each of the three national credit-reporting agencies because each may contain different aspects of your credit history, or you can contact the Annual Credit Report Service for one free credit report each year.

If you have been denied credit in the past 60 days, the credit-reporting agency that sent the report to your prospective creditor must provide you with a copy of the report for free. However, it will not be sent automatically so you have to request a copy from the credit-reporting agency. 1-877-322-8228 or Equifax 1-800-685-1111 or Experian 1-888-397-3742 or TransUnion 1-800-916-8800 or

2. Keep an eye on your accounts throughout the year by reading your monthly/periodic statements thoroughly. That's an easy way for you to be sure that all of the activity in your accounts was initiated by you.

3. Tear up or shred pre-approved credit offers, receipts and other personal information that link your name to account numbers. Don't leave your ATM or credit card receipt in public trash cans. Crooks (a.k.a dumpster divers) are known to go through trash to get account numbers and other items that will give them just enough information to get credit in your name.

4. If your credit card or other bills are more than two weeks late, you should do three things: First, contact the Postal Service to see if someone has forwarded your mail to another address. Second, contact your bank to ask if the statement or card has been mailed. Third, contact the businesses that send you bills.

5. When you pay bills, don't put them in your mailbox with the red flag up. That's a flashing neon light telling crooks to grab your information. Use a locked mailbox or the post office.

6. Protect your account information. Don't write your personal identification number (PIN) on your ATM or debit card. Don't write your social security number or credit card account number on a check. Cover your hand when you are entering your PIN number at an ATM.

7. Don't carry your Social Security card, passport or birth certificate unless you need it that day. Take all but one or two credit cards out of your wallet, and keep a list at home of your account information and customer service telephone numbers. That way, if your wallet is lost or stolen, you'll only have to notify a few of your creditors and the information will be handy.

8. Never provide personal or credit card information over the phone, unless you initiated the call. Crooks are known to call with news that you've won a prize and all they need is your credit card number for verification. Don't fall for it. Remember the old saying, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

More Tips to Protect Your Financial Identity

Take action if you are a victim:

1. Financial fraud is a crime; call your local police department.

2. Contact the fraud units of all three credit bureaus. Ask them to "flag" your account, which tells creditors that you are a victim of identity fraud. Also, add a victim's statement to each of your credit bureau reports that asks creditors to contact you in person to verify all applications made in your name. Call the fraud units of the credit bureaus at:

TransUnion Fraud Assistance Department 800-680-7289 Equifax Fraud Assistance Department 800-525-6285 Experian Fraud Assistance Department 888-397-3742

3. Call the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft hotline at 1 (877) IDTHEFT. The hotline is staffed by counselors trained to help ID theft victims. Check out the FTC Web Site, which includes an Identity Theft Affadavit to help simplify the process of clearing up accounts opened by an identity thief.

4. Notify your banks. They can help you obtain new account numbers for all of your checking, savings and other accounts. Be sure to pick a new PIN number for your ATM and debit cards. Close all of your credit card accounts and open with new account numbers.

5. Notify the Postal Inspector if you suspect mail theft - a felony.

6. Depending on your situation, you may want to contact the Social Security Administration to get a new Social Security number. Their telephone number is 800-772-1213. You also may want to contact your telephone, long distance, water, gas and electrical companies to alert them that someone may try to open an account in your name.

7. Finally, make sure to maintain a log of all the contacts you make with authorities regarding the matter. Write down each person's name, title, and phone number in case you need to re-contact them or refer to them in future correspondence.

For more information, view the American Bankers Association website at

ATM Safety Tips

from the ABA Education Foundation

The automated teller machine (ATM) revolution has made banking more convenient today than ever before. With the touch of a few buttons, you can withdraw cash, make deposits and transfer funds virtually anywhere an ATM is located.

The Bank's Role

To ensure customer safety at ATMs, banks are putting ATMs in areas that are visible by passers-by, trimming landscape to prevent potential criminals from hiding, and installing or upgrading lighting that is bright enough for use at night.

Some banks also have installed cameras, rear-view mirrors, panic buttons and special signs. And most banks limit the amount of cash that can be withdrawn on a daily basis.

The Customer's Role

Bank customers should always use common sense when using an ATM. These tips are a start, but the best advice is simply not to use an ATM if you feel at all uncomfortable doing so. ATMs provide convenience, buy they haven't replaced the bank teller. If you prefer, conduct your business in the bank lobby.

Exercise care when using an ATM, and follow these general rules:

Protecting Your ATM Card Using an ATM

Special precautions for using an ATM at night

Protecting Your ATM Card

Always protect your ATM card and keep it in a safe place, just like you would cash, credit cards or checks.

Do not leave your ATM card lying around the house or on your desk at work. No one should have access to the card but you.

Immediately notify your bank if it is lost or stolen.

Keep your Personal Identification Number (PIN) a secret. Never write it down anywhere, especially on your ATM card.

Never give any information about your ATM card or PIN over the telephone. For example, if you receive a call, supposedly from your bank or possibly the police, wanting to verify your PIN, do not give that information. Notify the police immediately.

Using an ATM

Be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night. If you observe or sense suspicious persons or circumstances, do not use the machine at that time.

Have your ATM card ready and in your hand as you approach the ATM. Don't wait to get to the ATM and then take your card out of your wallet or purse.

Be careful that no one can see you enter your PIN at the ATM. Use your body to "shield" the ATM keyboard as you enter your PIN into the ATM.

To keep your account information confidential, always take your receipts or transaction records with you.

Do not count or visually display any money you received from the ATM. Immediately put your money into your pocket or purse and count it later.

If you are using a drive-up ATM, be sure passenger windows are rolled up and all doors are locked. If you leave your car and walk to the ATM, lock your car.

Special Precautions for Using an ATM at Night

Park close to the ATM in a well-lighted area.

Take another person with you, if at all possible.

If the lights at the ATM are not working, don't use it.

If shrubbery has overgrown or a tree blocks the view, select another ATM and notify your bank.

ATM Crime

These tips are meant to make you aware that although rare, ATM crime can happen. Preventing such a crime must be a cooperative effort between you and your bank.


If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It is

How To Protect Yourself Against Cashier's Check Fraud

from the ABA Education Foundation

Online auction sites are a popular way to buy and sell collectibles, jewelry, even cars; however, internet auction transactions are not always safe. A new fraud, the cashier's check or "advance fee" fraud has become more prevalent as online auction sites and classified ads have gained popularity. In many cases, large ticket items lure this type of fraud artist to a victim.

The typical fraud scenario is somewhat confusing, which is probably one of the reasons why the fraud artist is successful.

Let's say you post an ad for your car on an online auction Web site for $3,000. A foreign buyer bids on the car for the full asking price. When payment is arranged the buyer says there is someone in the United States who owes him money. The person who owes the buyer money offers to send you a cashier's check for $5,000 and asks that you wire back the difference to the buyer. You agree because they offer you a small commission for brokering the deal. You receive the cashier's check, deposit it, and because cashier's checks are mistakenly thought to be as good as cash, wire the leftover sum to the buyer. Ten days later your bank informs you that the cashier's check was fraudulent and that you're responsible for any money you've drawn against it. Unfortunately, you've lost your money and merchandise to a scam.

There are variations on the scheme as well. A seller could just as easily attempt to scam you, and not all scammers are from outside the U.S. Cashier's Check fraud is growing as auction and classifieds Web sites become more popular.

Online auction fraud registers the largest number of complaints to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database. But don't give up your addiction to online auctioning yet. If you safeguard your identity, take your time transferring funds, and keep alert for possible scams, your risk of becoming a victim will be going, going, gone.

Consumer Tips

The American Bankers Association offers the following tips to protect consumers from cashier's check and "advance fee" fraud schemes:

Use caution when dealing with foreign buyers and sellers.

Beware if the buyer or seller asks you to send money quickly. Banks often take 10 days or more to determine if a cashier's check is counterfeit. Do not ship the goods or spend any of the funds sent to you until 10 days to two weeks after you deposit the cashier's check.

Insist on a cashier's check drawn on a local bank, or a bank that has a local branch. Insist on a cashier's check for the exact amount.

Check the FDIC's Institution Directory to make sure the bank is legitimate.

These fraud artists tend to target vulnerable people, senior citizens and young adults. Alert any family members who may be at risk.

No legitimate company will offer to pay you by arranging to send you a check and asking you to wire some of the money back. If that's the pitch, it's a scam.

Become familiar with any auction site you visit online. Find out what protections the auction site offers buyers and sellers. Don't assume the rules are standard for all auction sites.

Find out as much as you can about the other party you're dealing with on an online auction site. Be wary of those who try to lure you away from the Web site with promises of a better deal.

Save all transaction information.

Protect your privacy. Never provide your Social Security number, driver's license number, credit card number or bank account information.

Never agree to travel to meet your buyer or seller.

Don't Get Lured into a Phishing Scam

from the ABA Education Foundation

Con artists now use email to try to hijack your personal financial information. In a scam known as "phishing," swindlers claim to be from a reputable company and send out thousands of fake emails in hopes that consumers will respond with the bank account information, credit card numbers, passwords or other sensitive information.

These emails can look quite convincing, with company logos and banners copied from actual Web sites. Often, they will tell you that their security procedure has changed or that they need to update (or validate) your information, and then direct you to a look-alike Web site. If you respond, the thieves use your information to order goods and services or obtain credit.

Consumer Tips

To avoid becoming a victim of a phishing scam, the American Bankers Association offers these tips:

Never give out your personal financial information in response to an unsolicited phone call, fax or email, no matter how official it may seem.

Do not respond to email that may warn of dire consequences unless you validate your information immediately. Contact the company to confirm the email's validity using a telephone number or Web address you know to be genuine.

Check your credit card and bank account statements regularly and look for unauthorized transactions, even small ones. Some thieves hope small transactions will go unnoticed. Report discrepancies immediately.

When submitting financial information online, look for the padlock or key icon at the bottom of your Internet browser. Also, many secure Internet addresses, though not all, use "https" to signify that your information is secure during transmission.

Report suspicious activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

If you have responded to an email, contact your bank immediately so they can protect your account and your identity. For information on identity theft, visit ABA's Consumer Connection.

For more information on phishing, visit the following: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Trade Commission, the Anti-Phishing Working Group, the National Consumers League, the OCC Consumer Protection News and the OCC Consumer Complaints and Assistance Web site.