Imagine coming home to a pre-recorded message from a major credit card company wanting to verify an $8,000 purchase at a retail store located two states away.
The nightmare begins.
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America. It occurs when someone uses personal identifying information, such as name, Social Security number or credit card number without permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates as many as 10 million Americans have their identity stolen each year. Unfortunately, many consumers learn that their identity has been taken after some damage has been done.
Identity theft is serious. Victims of identity theft can spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage done to their good name and credit record.
The most recent attack on innocent Americans' identity involves a well-known sweepstakes company.
A woman in Dearborn County received a check for a substantial amount of money only to find it was an attempt to steal her identity. She was asked to send two personal checks to cover taxes on her winnings.
Indiana State Police say sweepstakes companies do not ask a potential winner to forward money in order to claim a larger cash prize. ISP requests anyone receiving one of these scams should contact the police immediately.
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to get ahold of personal information such as:
* Dumpster Diving -- Rummaging through trash looking for bill or other papers containing useful information.
* Skimming -- Stealing credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing a card.
* Phishing -- Pretending to be a financial institution or companies and send spam e-mail messages with hopes personal information will be revealed.
* Change of address -- Divert billing or bank statements to another location by completing a change of address form at the local post office.
* Old-fashion stealing
* Pretexting -- Using false pretenses to obtain personal information from banks or credit card companies.
To protect your identity, never release Social Security numbers unless necessary; don't have SSN printed on checks; have checks delivered to the bank and not home; don't leave mail in the mailbox longer than necessary; don't carry Social Security card, birth certificates and passports in a wallet; and don't create Personal Identification Numbers based on address, date of birth or consecutive numbers.
Sgt. Rich Myers of the Indiana State Police suggests purchasing a crisscross paper shredder and check credit report once a year.
"Everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year," Sgt. Myers noted.
Visit www.annualcreditreport.com for a free credit report containing the three major national consumer-reporting companies.
An important step in recovering identity is filing a police report or an Identity Theft Report, which can be used when contacting creditors. It provides victims with certain legal rights when it is provided to the three major credit-reporting agencies.
If convicted of identity deception, thieves can spend one to three years in jail and pay up to a $10,000 fine, said Myers.