A new you: Identity theft
In the course of a busy day, you may write a check at the grocery store, charge tickets to a ball game, rent a car, mail your tax returns, call home on your cell phone, order new checks or apply for a credit card. Chances are you donít give these everyday transactions a second thought. But someone else may.
Identity thieves steal personal information, such as a credit card account number, Social Security number or driverís license number. Then they open up accounts in a consumerís name and run up charges on the account. Or, they use the personal information to charge goods and services to a consumerís existing accounts. In other cases, they may work, or even be arrested, while using the victimís name.
The harm to a consumerís credit and daily life can be devastating. Victims of ID theft often have trouble getting new credit cards or loans because of the damage to their credit ratings.
You can minimize your risk of identity theft by doing the following:
Pay attention to your billing cycles.
Follow up with creditors if bills donít arrive on time.
Promptly remove mail from your mailbox.
Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office.
Use passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts.
Minimize the identification information and number of cards you carry.
Do not give out personal information unless you initiate the contact or know the person.
This applies whether itís on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet.
Keep items with personal information in a safe place.
Tear or shred your charge receipts, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail.
Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary.
Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. Donít carry your SSN card with you. Donít have your SSN on your checks or on your driverís license.
Make sure your credit reports are accurate.
Order a copy annually from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies:
Trans Union 1-800-916-8800.
Sometimes an identity thief can strike even if youíve been very careful about keeping your personal information to yourself. If you ever become a victim of ID theft, follow these four steps:
1. Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus.
Request that a fraud alert be placed in your file, as well as a victimís statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts.
2. Contact the creditors
(credit card companies, phone companies and other utilities, and banks or other lenders) for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
3. File a report with your local police or in the community where the ID theft took place. Get a copy of the police report in case creditors need proof of the crime.
4. Call the ID Theft Clearing-house toll-free at 1-877-438-4338 to report the theft.
The Identity Theft Hotline and the ID Theft website at www.consumer.gov/idtheft give consumers one place to report the theft to the federal government and receive helpful information. Ask about the ID Theft Affidavit.
Sandra McKinnon, MS
Consumer & Family