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Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

According to the F.B.I., identity theft is the fastest-growing white-collar crime in the United States. Nowadays, when your purse or wallet gets stolen, the cash inside may not be the only thing a thief wants to steal. The most valuable items in your wallet are your Social Security number, ATM card, credit cards, bank checks, and any other items containing your personal information

There is, of course, no perfect way to prevent identity, but here are a few helpful tips to reduce your risk and reduce the impact of such theft.
Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine, do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place.
If your wallet is stolen, cancel your credit cards immediately.  To do this, you need to have the toll free numbers and your credit card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them easily. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, this proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).
Call the three national credit bureaus immediately, place a fraud alert on your name and SSN.  The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
The numbers are:
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
  • Reporting stolen cards as soon as possible limits the cardholder's losses and prevents further purchases, but information gleaned from those cards (and other items commonly found in wallets and purses) can still be used to perpetrate identity theft scams such as obtaining additional credit cards, cell phone service, bank accounts, or lines of credit the victim is unaware of. For this reason, it's a good idea for the holder of lost or stolen credit cards to call all the major credit bureaus and ask them to attach fraud alerts to the cardholder's name and Social Security account number so that any such activity will be flagged.
  • The next time you order checks:
      • Have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your check book they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
      • When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it.  Alternatively, leave the memo field blank. The preprinted slip you return along with payment is all the credit card issuer needs to ensure payment is allocated against the correct account.
      • Don't put any phone numbers on the check.  If a merchant requires it, you can write it in.
      • If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box use your work address.
      • Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks. You can add it if it is necessary, but if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
    • Carry only the cards you actually need. Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry in your wallet or purse. Do not carry your Social Security card unless you need it.
    • Never put your account information on the outside of an envelope or on a postcard.
    • Cut up old or expired credit cards. Close all inactive credit card and bank accounts. Even though you do not use them, these accounts appear on your credit report and may be used by thieves.
    • For your ATM card, choose a Personal Identification Number (PIN) different from your address, telephone number, middle name, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your birth date or any other information that could be easily discovered by thieves.
    • Memorize your PIN; do not write it on your ATM card or keep it written on a piece of paper somewhere in your wallet. Statistics show that in many instances of ATM card fraud, cardholders wrote their PINs on their ATM cards or on slips of paper kept with their wallets or purses.
    • Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use another type of identifying number whenever possible.
    • Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated contact or know the business with which you are dealing.
    • Compare your ATM receipts and cashed checks with your periodic bank statements to check for unauthorized transfers or charges.
    • Destroy credit card statements, bank statements and pre-approved credit offers when you do not need them. 
    • Decrease the number of unsolicited credit card applications that you receive. The fewer credit card applications you receive, the less likely it is that one will be stolen. Call (888) 5OPT-OUT to have your name removed from the marketing lists sold by the major credit bureaus for two years, or removed permanently.
    • Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies at least once every year to review your file for possible fraud.

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