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What is Identity Theft?
Prevention & Safety

What is Identity Theft?


What to do if you become a victim?

What is Identity Theft?

California Penal Code Section 530.5
Unauthorized Use of Personal Identifying Information

(a) Every person who willfully obtains personal identifying information of another person, and uses that information for any unlawful purpose, including to obtain, or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services, or medical information in the name of the other person without the consent of that person, is guilty of a public offense.

Identity theft involves acquiring key pieces of someone's identifying information, such as name, address, date of birth, bank account numbers, health insurance identification number, social security number and mother's maiden name, in order to impersonate them. This information enables the identity thief to commit numerous forms of fraud which include, but are not limited to, taking over the victim's financial accounts, opening new bank accounts, purchasing automobiles, applying for loans, credit cards and social security benefits, renting apartments, and establishing services with utility and phone companies.


Every detective who has worked these cases has horror stories how identity thieves have ruined peoples credit and their lives. Several cases involve instances where the identity thief was either arrest on another crime or cited for a traffic violation. He then fails to appear in court and a warrant is issued for the innocent victim, who is usually later arrested.

Most don't know they are a victim until they get a bank or credit card statement in the mail. Perhaps they get a phone call from the police who got their name from a case they are unraveling. Some may not know until they apply for credit and discover they were victims and their credit rating is horrible. Someone probably stole a "pre-approved" credit card application from their mailbox, filled it out but claimed they recently moved and had the new card is sent to a "drop box." The crook then charges the card to the maximum and the bad credit goes to the victim. With a police report and an investigation, most or all of the negative credit marks can be restored to the original status but it takes time and effort. It is estimated the average victim spends 200 to 400 hours gathering documents and contacting people on their own case.

So how do you keep this from happening to you? Here are some things you can do to keep your identity:

  • Be careful when exposing your 3 most valuable pieces of information: your name, social security number, and date of birth.
  • Guard your social security number. Do not keep it in you wallet or purse, do not put it on your checks.
  • Shred all financial documents. Tear up or shred any credit applications that are mailed to you at your house. Shredders are cheap now, if you don't have one consider getting one. Shred anything with you name and address on it. With those two pieces of information, crooks can get more.
  • Eliminate all pre-approved credit card applications that show up in your mailbox. We've got some perpetrators that are stealing credit card applications out of the mailbox, which is a federal offense as well. To stop the offers, you need only call one number. Call 1-888-5-opt-out (1-888-567-8688). It stops pre-approved offers for 2 years.
  • Never give out your financial or personal information over the phone unless you initiate the telephone call.
  • Check your credit reports for fraudulent activity. It is a good idea to check every six months.
  • Think about reducing the number of credit cards you actively use to a bare minimum. Carry only one or two of them in your wallet. Cancel all unused accounts. Even though you do not use them, their account numbers are recorded in your credit report, which is full of data that can be used by identity thieves.
  • A point to ponder... 20% of the ID thefts are victimized by a friend or family member.
  • Another area to be extremely careful with is the Internet. Do not put your personal information into cyberspace unless you are sure it's a secure site. It should say secure server. Look for an "s" after the http on the address line. Make sure you have a good firewall in place. Whether your high-tech or low-tech, stay safe.

What to do if you become a victim

  • Set up a folder to keep a detailed history of this crime.
  • Maintain a log of all your contacts, phone numbers, the time you spend in this matter and make copies of all documents
  • Contact all creditors, by phone and in writing to inform them of the problem.
  • Notify the US Postal Inspector if your mail has been stolen or tampered with:
    • US Postal Inspection Service - 1-(626) 405-1200
    • US Postal Inspection Service - Local Post Office (See phone listing under Federal Government). www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the problem:
    • www.consumer.gov/idtheft - The FTC is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. They provide information to help resolve financial and other problems that may result from identity theft. Their hotline telephone number is 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
      • VISA 1-800-367-8472
      • MASTERCARD 1-800-231-1750
      • DISCOVER 1-800-347-7466
      • AMEX 1-800-528-2121
      • DINERS 1-800-234-6377

    Sample "Courtesy Notice"


    Dear (Creditor Name/Collection Agency Name):

    On (Date), I received your letter demanding payment of ($$ amount). I did not open this account and incur this unpaid balance. Someone, other than myself, wrongfully used my personal information to obtain a line of credit/service. Your company extended a line of credit/services to someone other than myself. Your company is a crime victim and should file a police report with the appropriate jurisdiction(s).

    You are hereby notified that on (Date), I filed an identity theft report with the Fullerton Police Dept. The case # is ___-__________. For information on obtaining a copy call FPD Records at (714) 738-6790.


    (Your name and address)

  • Call each of the three credit bureaus' fraud units to report identity theft. You may request to have a "Fraud Alert/Victim Impact" statement placed in your credit file asking that creditors call you personally before authorizing the opening any new credit accounts.
  • Request that a copy of your credit report be mailed to you. This is free to ID theft victims. At least one of the credit bureaus will do this, free of charge, to ID theft victims for life.

    Credit Bureaus


    PO Box 740241, Atlanta, Georgia 30374

    • To order your report, call 1-800-685-1111
    • To report fraud, call 1-800-525-6285
    • To stop pre-approved credit offers 1-888-567-8688

    PO Box 9595, Allen, Texas 75013

    • To order your report, call 1-888-397-3742
    • To report fraud, call 1-888-397-3742
    • To stop pre-approved credit offers 1-800-353-0809
    Trans Union

    PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834

    • To order your report, call 1-800-916-8800
    • To report fraud, call 1-800-680-7289
    • To stop pre-approved credit offers 1-800-680-7293
  • Alert your banks to flag your accounts and contact you to confirm any unusual activity. Request a change of PIN and a new password.
  • If you have any checks stolen or bank accounts set up fraudulently, report it to the following companies:
    • National Check Fraud Service - (843) 571-2143
    • SCAN - (800) 262-7771
    • TeleCheck - (800) 710-9898 or 927-0188
    • CheckRite - (800) 766-2748
    • CrossCheck - (707) 586-0551
    • Equifax Check Systems - (800) 437-5120
    • International Check Services - (800) 526-5380
  • Contact the Social Security Administration's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
  • Contact the state office of the Department of Motor Vehicles to see if another license was issued in your name. If so, request a new license number by calling DMV Fraud Hot-Line at 1-866-658-5758
  • Obtain witness information:
    • Persons who accepted applications
    • Salespeople
    • Apartment Managers
    • Employers
  • Evidence: Gather all documents and supply them to the Fullerton Police Department at the time of the initial report or supplemental report.
  • What is the financial loss to you and where did this occur? Attach all supporting documentation.

California Penal Code Section 530.8
Identity Theft; Right of Victim to Receive Certain Information

(a) Section 530.6 and identifying information in the categories of information that the unauthorized person used to complete the application or to open the account, the person, or a law enforcement officer specified by the person, shall be entitled to receive information related to the application or account, including a copy of the unauthorized person's application or application information and a record of transactions or charges associated with the application or account. Upon request by the person in whose name the application was filed or in whose name the account was opened, the person or entity with which the application was filed shall inform him or her of the categories of identifying information that the unauthorized person used to complete the application or to open the account. The person or entity with which the application was filed or the account was opened shall provide copies of all paper records, records of telephone applications or authorizations, or records of electronic applications or authorizations required by this section, without charge, within 10 business days of receipt of the person's request and submission of the required copy of the police report and identifying information.

For more specific information regarding a request for information view California Penal Code section 530.8

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