Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone uses personal information such as your name, Social Security Number, Credit Card Number, or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.

What to Do if You Are a Victim of Identity Theft

Contact Your Bank Immediately

Your accounts can be frozen and transactions can be tracked. The sooner the bank has a record of the incident, the better. In the case of Columbia Bank, as soon as you contact us, we will involve our Security Department in your case. Ask the bank(s) to flag your account.

Set up a Folder to Keep a Detailed History of the Crime

Include a log of every action you take, copies of all correspondence and/or forms you receive or send, names and contact information or everyone you contact as well as all information surrounding the contact—date, time of day and resulting action or activity. This process can be overwhelming and the more organized you are from the beginning, the easier and less confusing it will be. Keep track of the financial loss to you. Keep all supporting documents.

Report the Identity Theft to the Authorities (Police or Sheriff) in Your Area
File a police report and obtain a case number. Be persistent about getting a case number because it can be of tremendous help to you in correcting your credit rating. ID theft is a felony and charges may be filed against the thief in the county where you live. The Washington State Patrol Identity Theft Unit has statewide jurisdiction to file charges for ID theft.

Contact All Creditors

Do this by phone and in writing (save copies of the letters) to be sure they are properly informed. This includes: the power company, phone company, garbage collection, cable or satellite television provider, Internet provider, landlord, mortgage company, credit card issuer, etc. Contact anyone you pay a bill to or obtain a service from. Wherever possible ask to speak to the company's fraud department. They may advise you to close your account(s) and open a new one(s). Be sure to ask your bank what their procedures are for re-establishing account relationships in cases where automatic payment was being used.

Contact the Three Major Credit Reporting Agencies

Contact the fraud department at each agency to report the identity theft. Ask for a "Fraud Alert Victim Impact" statement to be placed in your credit file asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts. (Each agency will need the police report/case number to activate the fraud alert.) Request that a copy of your credit report be sent to you.

Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to Report the Problem

The FTC is the national clearing house for complaints by victims of identity theft. The FTC helps victims by providing information to help resolve financial and other problems that can result from identity theft. Their hotline is 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) The FTC also provides a uniform ID Theft Affidavit that is accepted and endorsed by many businesses. It also provides a form to report the identity theft to the FTC.

Ask Businesses to Provide You with Information About Transactions Made in Your Name

The Washington State Identity Theft Law requires businesses to provide information about transactions made in your name. However, they may require proof of your identity, including a copy of the police report and your fingerprints. If you need to obtain your fingerprints for this purpose, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) Identification Section provides this service. A small fee is involved and fingerprint cards maybe obtained from your local law enforcement department. For more information, contact the WSP Identification Section at 360-705-5100.

If you have any checks stolen or bank accounts set up fraudulently, immediately report it to these agencies:

  • National Check Fraud Service: 843-571-2143
  • SCAN: 1-800-262-7771
  • TeleCheck: 1-800-710-9898
  • CheckRite: 1-800-766-2748
  • ChexSystems: 1-800-842-5880
  • International Check Services: 1-800-526-5380

Contact Social Security

The Social Security Administration’s fraud hotline is 1-800-269-0271.

Contact the State Office of the Department of Motor Vehicles

Contact the DMV to see if another license was issued in your name. If so, request a new license and fill out the DMV's complaint form to begin the fraud investigation process.

How Identity Theft Occurrs

Information used to in identity theft rings usually begins with the following:

  • Home burglary
  • Stealing records from businesses
  • Stealing wallets and purses
  • Stealing mail
  • "Dumpster diving"—rummaging through trash
  • Pretending to be a representative from a legitimate company, and tricking consumers into providing information
  • Fraudulently completing "change of address" forms to divert your mail to another location
  • Stealing credit and debit card numbers by using a "skimming" device

What Do Thieves Do With This Information?

  • Open credit card accounts, bank accounts, home loans, car loans, utilities, cell phone accounts, and go on a spending spree. When the bills are not paid, YOUR NAME is reported to the credit reporting agencies.
  • Sell your information to others.
  • Counterfeit checks and/or debit cards and drain your bank account.
  • Open a new bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
  • File bankruptcy in YOUR NAME
  • Give YOUR information to police during an arrest.

How Can I Tell if I'm a Victim?

  • Receiving statement for accounts you didn't open
  • Denial of credit
  • Receiving calls from collections agencies on delinquent accounts

How Can I Prevent Identity Theft?

  • Do NOT give your social security number, mother's maiden name, checking account numbers, credit card numbers, and other account numbers to ANYONE, unless you initiated the call/transaction, AND you know the person or organization.
  • Do NOT "verify" or "confirm" any personal information with any individuals claiming to be from a business. If they are legitimate, they will already have the information.
  • Guard your mail against theft.
  • Don't leave outgoing mail in your mailbox; use a collection box or the post office.
  • Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered.
  • If you will not be home, have the post office hold your mail, or have a trusted friend or neighbor pick it up.
  • Pick up new checks at your banking branch rather than having them mailed to your home.
  • Pay attention to the time of the month your bills arrive. If your bills do not arrive on time, call the creditor, company or financial institution that sent the bill and ask to confirm the mailing address and whether or not it has been sent and if so, when.
  • If your bills include questionable items, don't ignore them. Call the source of the bill immediately.
  • Buy a shredder and use it for all receipts, copies of credit applications, statements, insurance forms, bank checks, credit card information, expired cards and credit solicitations and ANYTHING that may contain personal information. This is what ID thieves are looking for. Shred it and it is of no use to them. BUSINESSES should always use a shredder.
  • Report lost or stolen credit or debit/ATM cards immediately! Your financial institution and/or the credit card issuer can "hot card" or "freeze" your card and track transactions.
  • Report lost or stolen checks immediately! Your bank can freeze your accounts immediately, saving you potential loss.
  • Don't carry credit cards or ID cards that you don't need.
  • Leave your social security card safe at home, unless absolutely necessary.
  • Closely guard your ATM PIN and receipts.
  • Store canceled checks and new checks in a secure location.
  • Lock up your valuables, especially at work.
  • Limit your online shopping to only secure sites. (See Avoiding Internet Fraud)
  • Put passwords on all your accounts with creditors. Avoid "easy" passwords, such as your birth date, last four digits of your social security number, or an easy series of numbers such as "1234."
  • Notify your banker of any suspicious phone inquiries, such as those asking account information to "verify a statement" or award a prize.
  • Order a copy of your credit report at least once a year. (Credit Reporting Agencies) Obtain a copy from each of the three major consumer reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax, TransUnion. Make sure it is accurate. If not, contact the bureaus to dispute the claim. The law allows one free copy of your credit report each year. (Free Credit Report) Additional copies may cost up to $10 each. You may also write the reporting agencies and request to "opt-out" of pre-approved lists sold to other companies.

Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT)

This law will help reduce identity theft. For example, one provision requires the three major credit reporting agencies to provide consumers with a free copy of their own credit report. This requirement was put in effect throughout the U.S. as of September 2005.

Another provision to help prevent identity theft is the National Fraud Alert System. Consumers who reasonably expect that they have been or may be a victim of identity theft (or who are military personal on active duty away from home) can place an alert on their credit files. The alert will put potential creditors on notice that they must proceed with caution when granting credit.

Other measures that will help consumers recover their credit reputation:

  • Credit reporting agencies must stop reporting allegedly fraudulent account information when a consumer establishes that he or she has been a victim of identity theft.
  • Creditors or businesses must provide copies of business records or fraudulent accounts or transactions related to them. This information can assist victims in proving they are, in fact, victims.
  • Consumers will be allowed to report accounts affected by identity theft directly to creditors—in addition to credit reporting agencies—to prevent the spread of erroneous information.

Information on this page compiled from the Washington State Patrol and the American Bankers Association.