Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to Avoid Identity Theft

From author Brenda Novak: How to do what you can to avoid identity theft.

1. The next time you order checks, have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, 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.

2. 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 numbers and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to them.

3. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a P.O. Box, use it instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address.

4. Never have your SS# or Driver’s License number printed on your checks. You can add it if necessary, but if you have it printed, anyone can get it.

5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy 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. Also carry a photocopy of your passport when you travel either here or abroad. We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed on us in stealing a name, address, SS#, credit cards, etc.

6. Guard your trash from theft by shredding documents and receipts. Thieves can build an alternate identity using the mail you throw away.

7. Don't leave credit cards in glove compartments. (Glove compartments account for thousands of credit card thefts.)

8. Always check your monthly statements. (Criminals will sometimes make a small purchase first, to see if it goes undetected, before making a big one.)

9. Notify the post office immediately if you change your address. Mail going to your old address can end up in the wrong hands.

The attorney who shared this information said he has firsthand knowledge because his wallet was recently stolen. Within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change his driving record information online, and more. Here's some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:

1. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll-free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.

2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is the first step toward an investigation (if there is one).

3. Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and SS#. The man who passed along this information said he had never heard of doing this until advised by a bank officer who called to tell him that an application for credit was made over the Internet in his name. 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. By the time the attorney whose wallet was stolen was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft of his wallet, all the damage had been done. There were records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves when they made their purchases, none of which he knew about before he placed the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw his wallet away (someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them in their tracks:

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

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