Editor: W. Patrick Tandy
|By John Anderson
Now that the holiday season is over, you may
wish to pay careful attention to the bills and bank statements that you receive.
The holidays are a very hectic time, but it is also when you are most vulnerable
to theft. You might walk out of the store with everything you came in with (and
probably more), but you might have inadvertently allowed someone to make off
with enough information to seal your identity.
This type of theft has much more far
reaching effects than a simple pickpocket or purse-snatcher. People whose
identities have been stolen can spend months or years cleaning up the mess that
thieves have made of their good name and credit record. Victims of identity
theft may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars,
or even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. The worst part is that you
may not even know about it for months or even years.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your
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.
You also may be at greater risk than ever
before. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America; 9.9 million
victims were reported last year according to a Federal Trade Commission survey!
How can you prevent these thieves from
obtaining credit or credit cards from banks and retailers, stealing money from
your accounts, applying for loans, establishing accounts with utility companies,
renting an apartment, filing bankruptcy or obtaining a job using your name?
- Buy a shredder. Shred all your important
papers and especially pre-approved credit applications received in your name
and other financial information that provides access to your private
information. Don’t forget to shred your credit card receipts.
- Make sure that you do not throw anything
away that someone could use to become you. Anything with your identifiers must
be shredded before throwing away.
- Be watchful at ATMs and when using phone
- Do not put checks in the mail from your
home mailbox. Drop them off at a U.S. Mailbox or the U.S. Post Office. Mail
theft is common.
- When you order new credit cards, watch
the calendar to make sure that you get the card within the appropriate time.
- Empty your wallet of all extra credit
cards and Social Security numbers, etc. Do not carry any identifiers you do
not need. Don’t carry your birth certificate, Social Security card or passport
- Never give out any of your personal
information over the phone to people you don’t know or don’t trust.
- Monitor all your statements from every
credit card every month. Check to see if there is anything that you do not
recognize and call the credit grantor to verify that it is truly yours.
- Order your credit report at least once a
year and review it carefully. If you see anything that appears fraudulent,
immediately put a fraud alert on your report. Immediately correct all mistakes
on your credit reports in writing.
- Make a list of all your credit card
account numbers and bank account numbers with customer service phone numbers,
and keep it in a safe place.
Some Other Helpful Tips
- Generally speaking, federal law says that
the victim of credit or banking fraud is liable for only the first $50 of
losses if you notify financial institutions within two days of learning of the
- If you’re a victim of identity fraud or
if you have been denied credit, insurance or employment because of something
on your credit report, you’re entitled to a free credit report.
- Don’t pay any bills that are not yours
even if you think it’s going to make your life easier.
- Even though your Social Security number
may have been used by the identity thief, don’t change it! That will only make
you look more suspicious to future creditors. Your new number will be attached
to your credit report along with the old numbers and that may cause delays in
obtaining new credit.
- If collection companies continue to
harass you after you have written letters explaining the circumstances of the
fraud, inform them that they’re violating the law and keep documentation so
you may take legal action if they persist.
There are several organizations that can
assist you before or after you have an experience with identity theft. These
organizations support victims, broaden public awareness and disseminate
information about this crime, working to decrease the population of potential
Credit Reporting Bureaus
Order Report: (800) 685-1111
Fraud: (888) 525-6285
Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30374
- Experian (formerly TRW)
Order Report: (888) 524-3606 or (888)
Fraud: (888) 397-3742
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-2104
- Trans Union Corporation
Order Report: (800) 888-4213
Fraud: (800) 680-7289
Consumer Disclosure Center
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
(Note: The Credit Reporting Agencies
change their addresses and phone numbers often. Please double-check the
Agencies’ websites if you think the information provided here may be in error.)