Identity Theft

Identify Theft - 6/23/08

INTRO: Identity theft is a terrible problem. If you become a victim, it could cost you thousands of dollars and untold hours repairing damage to your good name and your credit record. You could be denied a loan for a home or car because of negative information in your credit report. You could even be arrested for crimes you did not commit! Thankfully, Ohio has created a new tool to help you protect your identity and avoid all these problems.

1. HOW DO THIEVES STEAL YOUR IDENTITY?

A. The key is to get personal identifying information, such as your Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. Thieves can get this by going through your trash, stealing credit card numbers when you use your card to make a purchase, pretending to be a bank or company and getting you to reveal personal information, and sometimes just old fashion stealing your wallet, purse, mail and pre-approved credit offers.

2. WHAT DO THIEVES DO WITH A STOLEN IDENTITY?

A. One of the most common strategies is to open new credit card accounts in your name. They use the cards and don't pay the bills, and the delinquent accounts appear on your credit record.

They may also open a new phone or wireless account, or get utilities like electric, or cable, and run up charges in your name.

Or they may take out a bank loan in your name.

3. WHAT'S OHIO'S NEW TOOL THAT WE CAN USE TO PROTECT OURSELVES?

A. It's called a credit freeze. The law allows you to lock up your credit, so no one else can use it without your ok.

Here's how it works. Typically, when a bank, credit card company or store is asked to issue new credit, the first thing it does is check your credit report with one of the three big national credit bureau. Under the new law, if you've put a freeze on your credit, the credit bureau is prohibited from releasing any information about your credit without your consent. And without access to your credit report, lenders and credit card companies generally will not issue new credit in your name. You should get very good protection.

4. HOW CAN I ACTUALLY PUT A FREEZE ON MY CREDIT?

A. You should sent a certified letter to each of the credit bureaus, along with the freeze fee. Right now, the credit bureaus are voluntarily offering credit freezes for $10. Beginning in September the Ohio law goes into effect and the cost will drop to $5. That's $5 for each of the three credit bureaus, or $15 all together.

5. WHAT IF I WANT TO TAKE OUT A LOAN?

A. You can lift the freeze yourself at any time, just by contacting the credit bureaus. You can lift the freeze by phone, using a password given to you by the credit bureau. The freeze will be lifted within 15 minutes. Again, there's a charge: $10 today, $5 in September.

6. HOW DO I CONTACT THE CREDIT BUREAUS?

A. There are three national bureaus:

  1. Experian Security Freeze P.O. Box 9554
    Allen, TX 75013
    Or online: www.experian.com/freeze
  2. Equity Security Freeze
    P.O. Box 105788
    Atlanta, Georgia 30348
  3. Fraud Victim Assistance Department
    P.O. Box 6790
    Fullerton, CA 92834

CLOSE: If you believe you are high risk for identity theft, get your security freeze now. Otherwise, you can wait until September, when the prices come down a little. But don't ignore this: identity theft is terrible and you should take any steps available to protect yourself.