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IDENTITY THEFT - FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is identity theft?
A perpetrator gets your social security number, credit card numbers, checking account info, etc, and uses it for his own financial gain. This can be an organized group exploiting victims for their group's own personal financial gain.

What is malicious identity theft?
A perpetrator gets the same info about the victim, but uses it directly against victim to mutilate his good name and financial well-being. The victim usually knows this perpetrator. The intent is usually based on motives of retaliation, a vendetta, or getting rid of a competitor.

In Malicious identity theft businesses have been known to go under due to the problem. Malicious cases are much more complicated and usually require investigators to get down to the bottom of who the perpetrator actually is.

Malicious Identity Theft is not recognized as a crime at this time in the US. There are no laws addressing it. Our President is a strong proponent of getting this remedied. You can read her letter to the Senators, Attorney Generals and Governors of the US by clicking on "Press Releases/News" in the right hand row of buttons and reading the letter dated June 14th, 2002.

What, if you could only give me one piece of advice, would you think is the most important thing to do to avoid being a victim of identity theft?
1, I would never tell you identity theft is that easy.
2, I would urge you to go to the "ID Theft Checklist" and the "ID Theft Prevention Checklist"in our left hand row of buttons and see the whole list of recommendations.
3, Personally, if I could only do one thing, that would be to urge everyone out there to check their whole families credit reports once a year.

EXAMPLES:

-We have a 21 year old victim who had someone on the other side of the country buy a home in her name and social security number when she was only three years old. When she was 21 it showed up (along with 70 bad debt accounts) on her credit report when she found out that she couldn't buy that home she'd been saving to put a downpayment on. She is a 17 year victim.

-We have a 15 year old victim who went to get his driver's permit only to find that he had an 8 year criminal record. His perpetrator started using this child's name and social when he was only 7 years old. He is an 8 year victim.

-We have a 65 year old victim who retired and went to draw her social security retirement benefits only to find that they'd been totally paid out to someone who'd used her name and social 15 years ago. This is a 15 year victim.

-Told to us by one of our victims: Hospitals in the US have had their databases comprimised. US Infants' from several years back names and social security numbers were sold to the black market overseas. If you are a US born citizen you can bring in 2 illegal aliens. We have 1000's (maybe millions) now who came into the US - every 3rd one on a stolen US infants ID. The only way you will find this is to pull your children's credit reports/and yours too every year. If you take responsibility for their medical and dental health - do so for their credit and financial health also. NO ONE ELSE WILL!

In today's world that is the #1 most important thing that you can do for your family to protect them from Identity Theft.

Do NOT let your child (or yourself) be a 7 year, 15 year, or 17 year victim! If you check once a year by pulling the whole families credit reports and checking them you can catch a problem within the first year of someone latching onto you or one of your family members ID's.

In the left hand row of buttons - click on "Credit Reports" and order one from each of the three credit reporting agencies for each member of your family. It is very important that you order from all three (not get a triple report from just one). The different companies may have differing information from one report to the next and you don't want to miss a thing on your yearly checks.

If anything questionable ever shows up or if you have any questions about what to look for - that's what we at VAA are here for. Give us a call or e-mail from the website and we will help you!

I’m an elderly retired man, 89, and living by myself. What do you recommend that I do to avoid this problem?
The elderly are particularly susceptible to an identity theft problem. Some of these perpetrators think of the elderly as an easy target because they grew up in an age where it was safe to leave their doors unlocked. Now - with the doors locked and everything seemingly safe most don't understand how easy it is to atill become a victim. The elderly grew up in a very trusting environment and tend to think it's impolite not to answer questions if someone seems like a "nice" person. -Do Not under any circumstances give out any personal information to some one you do not know. -Keep you personal information in a safe place. Do not give information such as your social security number or credit card numbers to anyone calling on the phone, unless you have called them and know them to be a reputable company. And then, be very protective of who you give that information to. -Call the Better Business Bureau if you have any doubt. Do not use a company that you know of no one else who has used them. (Ask a few neighbors for referrals) And then, be very protective still of who you give your personal information to.

These people try to act like your friend. No One wears the black hat and black suit anymore, they look just like everyone else. It’s alright to be a little untrusting in today’s society. It’s not like it was when you were a boy. No one expects you to trust them. Trust is something in today’s society that you earn by proving you are worthy of it. Don’t just give it away!

-If someone pressures you or makes you feel uncomfortable when you ask questions, there could be a reason. Identity theft is the number one crime in the US and everyone needs to try to help put a stop to it.

Don’t let what I say “scare” you. Make what I say “enlighten” you!

You might come up with a pat answer for anyone who asks. -“Oh! My attorney has all of that info and takes care of it for me.” Or, something like that. Tell them to”Mail a request to him and he will decide if it’s going to be given out”.

-Blame the fact that you are not giving the info to them on someone else (like your attorney). Then you won’t mind being that way.

-Practice on a family member or neighbor so you feel comfortable with it. It’s not a lie, it’s a protection of yourself against crime.

-If you've had a home break-in and have had any papers shuffled through of disrupted - go through the Identity Theft Check list in the Right Hand row of buttons and take the steps or call us to see what to do step by step so that you can relax as you go through the steps.

-Make sure that you always do your yearly financial "check-up" by calling for all three of your credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies and make sure there are no new accounts or your usual ones being run up when you haven't used them.

-When you get your report and you see open accounts that you no longer use. Send them registered letters and ask that they be closed. (Keep a copy of your registered receipt in a safe place.)

- 65% of our victims right now are victims of a family member. Read our list of how to set PIN's and Passcodes for on all of your accounts. The first time you pull your credit reports - set passcodes on everything showing up on your credit report so that no account can be accessed without a passcode or PIN (Personal Identification Number.)

-Put a fraud alert on all three of your credit reports and also ask for a PIN on each of those. (See instructions on PIN's).

Remember: Don’t let what I say “scare” you. Make what I say “enlighten” you and act on this information now!

I work at a bank and have seen several identity theft victims. What is the status of the set-up of your organization?When can we start referring victims to you?
We are helping about 1500 victims daily at this time. Feel free to send them through our website. They can also e-mail us from there if they'd like to or even call us. Our contact info is included in the "Contact VAA" button.

In the left hand row of buttons is an "Identity Theft Checklist" if they have a current problem. If they'd like to AVOID a problem suggest that they run a copy of our "Identity Theft Prevention Checklist" and take those steps.

Generally - for your information - the left hand row of buttons includes all kinds of help to victims. The right hand row of buttons gives info about VAA, How to Help our Organization, Employment Information (for both Volunteers and also Paid Employees.)

We urge you to start referring them to our website now. At this time we have two companies who want to help us with 50 offices in 50 states and three others who will also be sponsors. We are working with a 501-c-3 Development Organization who is mashing out all of the details for us. Within the next few months we should have locations in every state for you to refer victims to. That information will be added to the "Contact VAA" information page and also to the "AboutVAA", "VAAdivisions" Button and Map when it is available. Please tell victims to: -Immediately contact the police in their area for a police report -contact VAA to help clean up their credit record. As VAA helps they will also give referrals to different agencies as it becomes apparent what is needed in each instance. We have already been referring victims to DA's Offices, Atty General's offices, victims advocates, Secret Service and Postal Inspectors as different situations arise in each instance.

-contact the government site (the link can be found under our "ID Theft Links" Button and have them register with the government site so that it is known that they are having a problem.) That website is where they count how many victims there have been and if we don't get everyone used to checking in there the ID Theft victim count will never be correct.

Our President has gotten to be very much in demand. If you would like for her to come out and give a talk or seminar on identity theft issues for a group in your area, let us know. It is very beneficial for college students who are new at living on their own and for the elderly who are prime targets and need to know what to do to avoid a problem.

Actually, it would be a great service that employers could provide for their employees. 1 in 4 in the US has had an identity theft problem of some nature. The more people made aware of this problem the more likely we are together to squash it!

The answer to your question is NOW!:-)

I heard Martha Steimel on a radio interview tell how to remember your PIN numbers and how to keep from becoming a victim of a family member. Can you go over that for me please?
Yes! Great Question because a large % of our victim's right now are victims of a family member.

Here's how it goes: You know how the bank - your credit card company - and others ask you a question like "What's your Mother's Maiden Name?" Here's what you do. Choose your favorite pet from childhood or your youngest child's middle name - something that is special to you and that you will always remember. Let's say for instance that you grew up with a cat named "George" and that you will always remember that as your security word.

When asked, "What's your Mother's Maiden Name?" you say "George". When asked "What street did you grow up on?" you say "George". When asked "What is your Dad's middle name?" You say "George". and when you are asked "what Grade School did you go to?" You've got it now you want to "George"!

The thing that's nice about this system is that you will always remember the answer and only you will know that you always give the wrong answer every time. As long as you don't give this info to your family (as far as what answer that you are using) it will stop an Identity Theft by a family member every time.

Your perpetrator won't understand when they KNOW what your mother's maiden name is - and all the answer's to the security questions why they still can't get into your accounts. There is also a product in the VAARetail security items section that looks like a credit card and holds up to 19 different passcodes. It is supposed to be very close to fail-proof.

One thing to be aware of is that 1 in 4 in the US have been victims of this crime and 65% of that is being done by family members: an ex-spouse, ex-son-in-law, disgruntled son,granddaughter,daughter, parent,etc. Protect yourself and check your credit reports once a year to be sure nothing has been started against you by anyone in the ID Theft arena within each passing year.Be sure to keep a fraud alert and also a PIN on all three of your credit reports at all times. Have a PIN on every account listed on all three credit reports and on all checking, any bank and all investment accounts. Now that you have the idea: take it one step further. You are urged not to use your name, your spouses name, any female family members maiden name, your cat, your dog, a pet name, any family member's birtdate or anniversary, your address, or any info that ties directly to your family in any way. But - once you choose something - it will work with every question asked. Another thought: In our security section of VAARetail is a Secure Passcode Card. It looks like a credit card and holds up to 19 different passwords. If you use that - you can have a different password or PIN on everything. It keeps you from having to write down and PIN or password information so that you can remember all 19 of them (if you use that many!) and it's about fail-safe if you use it as directed. The company gives you a method of picking a password. A perpetrator has 5 chances to try to break your code to get into your secure card and then the card erases itself. If you are an employer - you may want to supply these to all of your employees for their company passcodes and let them add their personal ones in also if they'd like to. Another service you could offer to let them feel secure that their company is taking an interest in their protection against this crime.

I hope that you will reconsider your harsh language regarding services to help I.D. Theft victims. "Don't pay for help, it is further victimization." Your reasoning makes any service that people could do for themselves victimization. There are many examples where for convenience and peace of mind we hire someone to do our work- such as maids, carpentry, tax accountants, yard care services, childcare, etc. I believe that people overwhelmed with i.d. theft would receive a benefit from having someone else do the clean-up.
You did not give an e-mail address to reply to. I’m sure what you are referring to here is our “Victims Warning!” button in the left hand column of the home page.

I will click "reply" from here and see if you get this. VAA offers help services at no charge to the victim. We do the clean-up as you call it. So, why should a victim have to pay for it? What we do is to help the victim personally (one on one) on the credit and financial side of the crime. We hate to see a victim pay for anything that they could receive from us at no charge.

We try to have available through our website as much information that they will need as possible. As we find that something needs to be added - we do so as quickly as possible. We just added a "Credit Reports" Button in the left hand row of buttons that transfers those with a problem and those doing an annual "Credit Check'Up" to Prevent a problem right over to all three credit reporting agencies to simplify the process of their getting their own credit reports. We've put a button in for the "Affadavits" used to dispute any item found on a credit report and an "Identity Theft Checklist" Button that lists exactly what to do if having an ID Theft problem. We just updated our "Prevention Checklist" info that can be found under the button with that name so that you can best protect yourself from having an ID theft problem start at all. We are helping 1500 victims daily at this time through our website, phone calls and also e-mail.

We do not however get into the law enforcement side of the problem except to be sure that the victim gets to the correct law enforcement agency in their state for their specific needs and that their law enforcement needs are addressed. Again - we do not charge for these referrals and we have been known to spend days on the phone trying to locate the correct department of the correct agency and get a name and number for the victim. In that way the victim does not have to deal with the frustration of trying to figure out who to call and law enforcement feels comfortable referring all victims to us because they have gotten our calls – they know that whatever the victim needs - will be addressed as we work with them on the financial side of the crime.

A lot of times something may come up while we work with them that may cause a different arm of law enforcement to be called in – but the victim would not have necessarily needed to contact that arm before that time and maybe not recognized the symptoms as they came up to even know who to call. So, we are making it simpler for law enforcement and also the victim. When a division of law enforcement gets a referral from VAA that victim is ready for that division at that time. We are basically a filtering process for the victim. We know exactly what questions to ask and are not emotionally upset when seeking law enforcement help for them. It’s a comfort to the victim to know that we know exactly what emotions that they are going through, we know exactly how to reach in and help them personally know what to do (a step at a time) with the financial side while they consistently get referrals to law enforcement in their state.

We also work with the existing advocate programs in each state. We just set a disabled victim from Ohio up with an advocate’s program in New Jersey. His perpetrator was using this victim’s name and social every time the perpetrator was thrown into jail or prison. Every time a court date came up in New Jersey – this disabled victim in Ohio was either supposed to travel to NJ to prove that he was innocent and a victim of identity theft – or else he would be in contempt of court. He now has an advocate in NJ who will represent him each time his name is on the docket again - thanks to his low-life perpetrator. Again we do not charge for this service.

If VAA handles the services of the complete financial side of the crime while also securing the correct law enforcement help for the victim - and law enforcement simultaneously handles the complete services of the investigations, police reports, catching the perpetrator and prosecuting: What other service is then necessary for a victim to seek out or have to pay for?

The reason our organization was put in place was because our president had a 10 year long problem that started back 17 years ago and no one knew how to help. No one had any idea how this crime was perpetrated much less what the name of it even was! Because of her extensive financial background, knowledge with working with both the credit reporting agencies and collection agencies - along with a ten year experience in studying the crime up close and personal - we really are very well positioned to help victims deal with the financial side of the crime without their having to pay for those type services. That's what we are here for, why we were set up and our whole purpose - so, why would we refer victims away to pay for that service when in fact that is exactly what we offer for no charge? Our advocates are all trained in ID Theft issues and either were a victim themselves or have a financial background to better help the victim know what to do.

Sorry you disagree with our approach to the crime - but we're proud of what we do. Our victims really appreciate our stand: Don’t let Someone Make a Victim Out of You again by charging you for what VAA is here to help you with!

I understand one can place a "victim's statement" with any of the three credit organizations, requiring a phone call to be made before any credit is granted. This sounds much better than the expensive solutions each of them have in that this is free, and good for seven years. This sounds like a good solution to me, but I am wondering about drawbacks. I have tried to contact each of the credit organizations, but apparently no human beings work there! :-( Jim
Hi Jim, You can ask for a victim's statement. You can also ask for a "fraud alert" - that's the one that makes it where they are supposed to call you first. I say “supposed” because there is no law forcing them to and it is not fail-safe.

We have been urging all to ask for a PIN or password to be added to all three credit reports. Therefore it can't be accessed at all by anyone but you. That seems to be a better alternative. If you happen to live in California – they have passed a law making it mandatory for all three credit reporting agencies to make that feature available to Californians. We've been advising victims for quite some time now to ask for one no matter where they live. No one has contacted us and told us that the credit reporting agencies turned them down at all. I imagine all states will be passing the same legislation soon. (We sent them all letters and asked them to!)

As far as the 800 numbers for the three credit reporting agencies - they asked us to only post that on our website since so many of our people contact them. (We are helping 1500 victims per day now). The 800 number is the most efficient way for someone to ask for a credit report which is what most need – it is only an automated line. That's why you could not reach a live person.

We have now put a credit reports button right on the home page to make it even easier. It will transfer you right over to their sites to order credit reports. If you need to speak with them however - you might call information in each of their states and get their direct line number. I'd ask for a PIN or password.

Also: If you'd like to see what Ms Steimel recommends for How to set your passwords - go to the ID Theft FAQs button in the left hand column. When you click on that - then scroll down to the question about passwords. Once you know about how to set PIN’s or passwords or better yet: you’ve gotten a secure card out of VAARetail’s security items section:

Let’s talk “locking down” your credit. If you want to be as secure as possible credit wise to prevent ID Theft, take these steps:

- Get a PIN or password on all three credit reports, at the same time ask for a permanent fraud alert to be added. If you have been a victim of fraud or ID Theft also add a victims statement to each report.

-Get a PIN or password on every account that is listed in all three credit reports. (Do not buy a triple report from one agency – it will not necessarily include everything that could be in all three companies reports combined.)

-Get a PIN or password on you insurance accounts, your bank accounts, investment accounts and on any other type account you may hold that does not show up on your credit reports. -Memorize PIN numbers or get a secure card from the security section of VAARetail. Do not ever write your passwords down – especially on the actual credit card or taped to it.

-Opt out of pre-approved credit and insurance offers as allowed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. section 1681b(e). By calling 1-888-5OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688)consumers can prevent the 4 national bureaus from releasing their name on the prescreened lists used to create pre-approved offers. The consumer has the option to opt out for 2 years or for life. We at VAA recommend life and being done with it.

-Get you social security number off of everything unless it is something that is used for reporting to the IRS. Put your social security card in a bank lock box. Do not have it in your home – in home break-ins – a lot of times all the perpetrator is looking for is your important papers, account info and social security information.

-Use a cross-cut shredder, even for your junk mail. What is trash to you is treasure to an ID Thefter. Those pre-approved credit card mailings that everyone gets has enough info that a perpetrator just needs to change the address and send it in. Don’t, when at the post office picking up your PO Box mail, stand there and sort through and throw out all of your junk mail in an open garbage can.

-Check with your bank, financial institution, stock brokerage company, medical doctor, insurance company, utility company, Phone Company, Cell Phone Company and all of your accounts. IF they do not shred all of their garbage move your account to another company.

-Also ask what measures they have taken to lock down their client data-base. Do not let them ask you for your social security number to identify you. Demand that they change their system or take your account elsewhere.

-If interviewing - do not give out your social security number. An employer should not collect that information about your unless you are hired and the company will need it for IRS reporting.

-Guard personal information. Do not carry your whole credit profile in your purse or wallet. If one credit card is all you are going to use – only carry one. If you are not doing anything with your credit today – don’t carry any. Be aware of you surroundings. Watch that person who’s staring over your shoulder as you pay your bill or that’s eyeing your purse. Minimize the number of Identification documents that you ever carry anymore.

-Get a locking mailbox (See VAARetail’s Security Items Section). Don’t put a flag up on your mailbox for ID Thefters to see that your checks in the mail. Take outgoing mail directly to the Post Office and drop it off inside.

-Remember your phone manners. Used to be that was to be nice. Now it means don’t give any info at all to anyone who has called you. If you have made the call – and you know who you are speaking to – that may be alright. It is definitely not alright to give out any info at all to someone who just contacted you. No matter who they say they are – that doesn’t mean that’s really who that is on the other end of the line. Rule of thumb: if someone contacts you and needs info – tell them you will drive to the location and speak with them personally and hang up. Don’t verify that you do or don’t have an account with what you say. Or, pick up the phone and call them back. Never give out credit card or other identifying information over the phone unless you have initiated the call. Be sure you know the reputation of a company before you do business with them.

-Don’t forget computer etiquette while you’re at it. Never give credit information unless you are on a site that you are both familiar with the company and the site is a secure site. No exceptions. If you are not sure about the company: Contact the Better Business Bureau before giving an unknown company your business.

-Carefully review all of you bills as they come in. If something looks incorrect – you may have a problem.

-Pull credit reports for the entire family at least once a year and be sure they are still clean.

-If something looks suspicious – don’t ignore it – question it! Perpetrators work right next to us and we just don’t pay any attention! Watch when you hand someone your credit card. They should only swipe it once. Don’t let anyone take your credit card away from your line of vision when doing business with you. Be aware. Be cautious. Be credit safe.

-Make sure that your whole family is using the same system. It does you no good to take all of these precautions if your teen gets online and orders some music with your credit card at a web site that is not secure or your 10 year old answers the phone and verifies information that he knows to be true for the caller.

It’s your family name! Let’s keep it clean of criminal records and bad credit when it passes to the next generation. No one else will take care of it for you.

One of the less well know but important steps a consumer can take to help prevent identity theft is to opt out of pre-approved credit and insurance offers as allowed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. section 1681b(e). By calling 1-888-5OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688)consumers can prevent the 4 national bureaus from releasing their name on the prescreened lists used to create pre-approved offers. The consumer has the option to opt out for 2 years or for life. Also, residents of California should be encouraged to place a "security freeze" on their credit files (this law takes effect on January 1, 2003) under section 1785.11.2 of the California Civil Code. This allows the consumer to place a password/PIN on their credit files so even people with information such as SSN, DOB etc. will be unable to gain access to the credit files. While this will prevent the consumer of gaining 'instant credit', it will also make it very difficult for a thief to open new accounts after they have acquired a consumer's identifying information. I hope this helps. Good luck with getting VAA up an running.
Thanks Neal! We always appreciate hearing from you. We will post the Opt out info.

We've been urging all vicitms - actually even if they are not a victim -to put Pin's or passwords on all of their credit reports whether they are in California or not.

We usually don't post state specific information since our victims are coming at us from all over the country and our info needs to be general enough for everyone reading it. Thanks again for your help! Your input is always much appreciated - Keep it coming!:-)


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