The Identity Theft Assumptions Deterrence Act, passed in 1998 closes vital gaps against identity theft. This law offers the strongest protection ever against this type of crime. It also redefines the theft of personal information as a crime.
In the past. consumers were left to repair damaged credit reports and the credit card companies were considered the victims of identity theft. This law allows victims of idenity theft to seek compensation for "identifiable losses" as well as expenses related to clearing their name and credit history. Unlike previous federal legislation, this identity theft law allows law enforcement officials to prosecute criminals who steal personal information.
"The Identity Theft and Associations Deterrence Act" includes the following measures to protect you and other consumers:
- Making identity theft across state lines a crime with a punishment of a fine and imprisonment of up to 15 years.
- Allowing restitution to the victim.
- Increasing levels of jail time, depending on how many victims the criminal defrauds.
- Requiring the U.S. Secret Service to keep statistics on the identity theft cases they handle and which are reported to them by state and local authorities, and by financial institutions.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission's complaint center by calling (202) FTC-HELP or sending an email from their website at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. Or, you can write to: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, CRC-240, Washington, D.C. 20580.
- Monitor your credit. Check your credit report regularly. Obtain your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement once a-year to ensure that no one is using your social security number for employment. Social Security Administration (800) 772-1203.
- Check your bills. Carefully study your credit card statements, phone and utility bills and cancelled checks for unauthorized use.
- Carry only what you need. Try to leave your social security card and extra credit cards in a safe place. Protect your records. Keep a list of all your bank accounts, credit cards, account numbers, and customer service numbers in a secure place.
- Choose proper passwords. When creating personal identification numbers (PIN) avoid using anything easy to figure out, and change them regularly.
- Keep your Social Security number secret. Don't give it out. It's only necessary for certain items such as tax forms, employment records, banking, and property transactions.
- Shred any documents that have any personal information or credit account numbers on them before discarding.
- Cover the screen or keypad when using an ATM or public phone so thieves can't read your personal identification number (PIN).
- Mail Strategically. Always drop your mail in the U.S. Postal blue boxes or at the post office, don't leave it in your mailbox at home.