Identity Theft

lock and credit cardsIdentity 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 yourself

Protecting your credit information and preventing identity theft is a critical job; however, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Don't list your social security number on your checks.
  • When writing checks to pay your credit card or other credit accounts, do not list the entire account number on the "for" line of the check. Instead, just list the last four numbers of your account; your credit card company knows the rest. By doing this if your check is stolen from the mail, the thief will not get your account number.
  • Don't keep Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) for your credit cards and bank cards in your wallet.
  • Do not use easy to guess numbers for PINs—your address, last four digits of your Social Security number or date of birth. These are all common numbers thieves try when they get a hold of your card.

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.

What to do when your wallet or purse is missing

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.

Online shopping

You can prevent problems before they occur by using some common sense tips:

  • Do business with companies you know and trust. Before you give credit card information make sure you know who is receiving it. Many Internet auction sites are just brokers for private dealers. Check the reputation of the dealer before deciding if the purchase is worth the risk.
  • Use a secure browser. Normally you will see an icon of a padlock near the bottom of your screen when a secure browser is being used. A secure browser limits the chance that a computer hacker can break into on your transaction and capture your account information.
  • Be wary of "free prizes" and other sign ups on the Internet that require personal information from you. An identity thief may use that claim to get you to divulge information needed to steal your identity.

Contacts

  • Police Department
    763-525-6210
  • Police Services Liaison

    952-548-6407
  • If your wallet is lost or stolen:
    Equifax - 800-525-6285
    Experian - 888-397-3742
    Trans Union -
    800-680-7289
    Social Security Administration -
    800-269-0271 (fraud line)

More on identity theft

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.