What can you do about identity theft? Published July 18, 2006 By Special Agent James Williams 22nd Air Refueling Wing Office of Special Investigations MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Identity theft is an increasingly common occurrence. Two studies concluded that there were 7 million victims between June 2002 and 2003. The Federal Trade Commission number is closer to 10 million but also includes credit card takeover. According to the FTC, identity theft is the most common form of consumer fraud, with thefts totaling more than $100 million from financial institutions, an average of more than $7,000 per victim. Since law enforcement nationwide does not often collect statistics about ID theft, there is no one answer; however, the growth rate was estimated to be about 25 percent in this crime between 2003 and 2005. Estimates on losses range from $100 million to more than $1 billion. With awareness comes the ability to avoid becoming a victim. Despite your efforts to manage the flow of personal information or to keep it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to gain access to your data. -- Identity thieves get personal information from businesses or other institutions by stealing records or information while they're on the job, bribing an employee who has access to these records, hacking these records, conning information out of employees. -- They may steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks and tax information. -- They may rummage through household trash, the trash at businesses, or public trash dumps in a practice known as "dumpster diving." -- They may get credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legal right to access. -- They may steal credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a data storage device in a practice known as "skimming." They may swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach a device to an ATM where you may enter or swipe your card. -- They may steal your wallet or purse. -- They may complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location. -- They may steal personal information they find in your home. -- They may steal personal information from you through e-mail or phone by posing as legitimate companies and claiming that you have a problem with your account. This practice is known as "phishing" online, or pretexting by phone. The following guidance offers tips on what to do if you lose your wallet or checkbook, as well as steps you can take now to prevent identity theft. -- Order you checks with your first initial (instead of your full name) and last name printed on them. A random person trying to use your checks won't know whether you sign your name or first initial last name, but your bank will know. -- Use your work number and address instead of your home information on your checks. -- Never have your social security number printed on your checks. -- Photocopy, front and back, all of the contents of your wallet. It will be easier to account for items in your wallet should it be taken, as well as facilitate the cancellation of credit cards. -- Immediately call the police if you wallet or any of the contents are stolen. If you delay, it may appear to creditors that you did not try to mitigate your damages. -- Contact all three of the national credit reporting agencies to place fraud alert on your name and social security number. It alerts companies that your information has been stolen. If someone tries to get a credit card using your name, you have to be contacted before new credit can be authorized. The numbers of the credit reporting organizations are: Equifax, (888) 766-0008; Experian, (888) 397-3742; Trans Union, (800) 680-7289. A recent amendment to the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide a free copy of your credit reports, at your request, once every 12 months. Since September, free reports are accessible to all Americans, regardless of where they live. To order a free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies, call toll-free (877) 322-8228. Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually. Other numbers that could come in handy are the Social Security Administration Fraud Line, (800) 269-0271, and the Federal Trade Commissions's Identity Theft Hotline, (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338). FTC address is: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580. AFOSI is the office of primary responsibility for identity theft investigations for the Air Force. If you are a victim with monetary loss, please contact your local AFOSI detachment or security forces law enforcement desk.