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Do you have identity theft questions? Here are some quick tips

Members of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Consumer Advocacy Task Force provide video tips about identity theft.

*IDENTITY THEFT

Helpful Tips

Here are some information and resources for individuals who have been a victim of, or are looking to protect against, identity theft and are interested in seeking further assistance here in Massachusetts:

 


Useful Resources

The Massachusetts Bar Association's Consumer Advocacy Task Force recommends that consumers visit the following websites and phone numbers for supplemental information concerning identity theft:

Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, Guide to Identify Theft for Victims and Consumers

Identity Theft Resource Center

Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection

Annual Credit Report

Credit Reporting Agencies


Helpful Tips

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a serious crime that can cause serious harm to your credit rating or financial standing. Victims of scams and identity theft could lose the ability to obtain loans, approval for lease agreements or approval for credit cards. Identity theft occurs when an unauthorized person obtains or gains access to your personal information, such as your Social Security Number, bank account number, credit card account number or related account passwords, to commit fraud or other crimes using such personal information.

Examples of identity theft include unauthorized use of your credit card to make purchases, checks written in your name that you never authorized and improper use of your Social Security Number to obtain credit or financing that you never authorized.

How does identity theft happen?

Social security numbers and birthdates, widely used for identification or corroboration of identity with a name, may be copied by someone who has access to the information, eavesdrops or steals electronic equipment such as a smartphone, laptop or tablet computer. That sensitive information can also be accessed by hackers who break into company databases or by those posing as legitimate companies who collect the information from unsuspecting individuals through phone and emails scams. Viruses can also collect keystroke and web browser history data from personal computers. In addition, some companies have also misplaced or carelessly disposed of this data, making it easily accessible.

Do companies have to tell me when there's been a data breach?

Massachusetts Law requires any entity or individual that maintains or stores your personal information (such as a Bank or merchant) to notify the Attorney General's Office in the event of a data breach. The notification must be made promptly and include the nature of the breach, the number of affected residents, and the steps being taken to remedy the breach. The reporting entities must also notify the affected residents and provide information related to requesting a security freeze.

What is the first thing I should do if my identity has been stolen?

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, you should immediately take action to protect your credit rating. Make sure to immediately contact your bank to dispute any unauthorized charges or transactions. You should keep a file of all letters, emails and conversations you have with your banks and other financial institutions concerning the potential identity theft. Importantly, you should make a report with your local police department regarding the identity theft.

Also, you should place a "security freeze" on your credit report. Under Massachusetts Law, identity theft victims can place a security freeze prohibiting credit reporting agencies from releasing any information from the report without written authorization. To do this, you should send a written request to each of the credit bureaus:

Each credit bureau has specific requirements in order to place a security freeze. Note, if you are a victim of identity theft and you provide the credit reporting agency with a valid police report, it cannot charge you to place, lift or remove a security freeze.

Victims of identity theft also should consider contacting the Registry of Motor Vehicles, who will issue a new driver's license, and the Social Security Administration, who could issue a replacement card, or even a new social security number in certain circumstances. Contact information for these agencies, along with other credit report agencies, is available on the Consumer Task Force Webpage.

How can I protect myself from identity theft?

All a thief needs to steal your identity is your name, address, social security number and date of birth. This information can easily be taken from a driver's license and/or a checking account. Identity thieves can steal your personal information from multiple sources, including credit card receipts, stolen mail, pre-approved financial applications and even by searching your trash. In today's technology age it is important to be diligent in properly destroying and discarding all of your personal information. These tips can help to reduce the risk of identity theft:

  • Shred everything 
  • Minimize credit card accounts
    Close any stagnant/unnecessary credit card accounts.
  • Protect your social security number
    Don't carry your card with you, don't write the number on your checks, and don't use it as a driver's license number.
  • Minimize the information you disclose
    Minimize the information that you place in telephone or organization
    directories (both electronic and hard bound), and on personal checks. Use
    debit cards rather than checks when possible.
  • Know who's receiving information
    Only give out personal information to people or groups that you know and/or that you initiated the contact with -- whether by phone, mail or internet.
  • Make your password(s) hard to guess
  • Check your credit report
  • Be on the lookout for problems
    Look for mail or bills that don't arrive when expected -- they may have been stolen. Pay close attention to credit card or account statements that you didn't expect to receive -- someone may have opened an account in your name.
  • If a problem arises -- act fast 
    Put a "fraud alert" on your credit reports and close any accounts that have been tampered with, and keep detailed records of your requests (including verifications) that the tampered accounts have been closed.

 *These answers do not constitute legal advice and are written for general information purposes only. Individuals should consult with a lawyer for specific legal advice.

If you have any questions concerning these topics or other consumer protection issues, we highly suggest that you contact the Massachusetts Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service. Get an instant online referral here. Or call us to speak to an LRS representative* (Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.) at (617) 654-0400 or (866) 627-7577.

 

 




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