Identity theft is classified as fraud and is a real and growing problem in our community. A common misconception is that thieves can only gain your identity information through Internet transactions—this is untrue.
For example, someone had his wallet stolen and within a week, the thief had ordered an expensive cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to purchase a computer via the Internet, and filed an address change on the victim's driving record with the state.
Protecting your credit information and preventing identity theft is a critical job; however, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:
One of the best practices you can do before your wallet is ever stolen is to have photocopies of all the credit cards, your driver's license and bank cards that are in your wallet.
You can make photocopies at one of the several printing shops in Hopkins or at the Hennepin County Library. Keep the photocopies together in a safe place in your home or at work. Keep them where you can get to them quickly if needed and update the information regularly.
Once you discover your wallet or credit cards are missing, immediately call the Police and file a report. If you find the items the next day, you can always cancel the report. Many people wait a day or two to, "see if it turns up." That day or two is all a good identity thief needs to steal your identity and credit history.
You should also immediately place a fraud alert with all three national credit-reporting organizations and the Social Security Administration. Tell the organizations that your identity information has been stolen and instruct them to contact you by the telephone to authorize any new credit.
Once a thief steals your credit cards or wallet, s/he will quickly do two things: send a change of address information to your existing credit cards so you will not receive the bills showing the items they charged; and apply for new lines of credit under your name using your reputation to approve the credit line.
By the time most victims discover what has happened, the damage to their credit history has already been done. For some victims it takes months and even years to straighten out bad credit reports.
You can prevent problems before they occur by using some common sense tips:
The Hopkins Police Department has brochures and free information packets on identity theft and protecting your privacy. Please stop by the lobby for copies.
Our Police Services Liaison is happy to schedule a meeting with your group to discuss identity theft and what you can do to protect yourself.