Consumer Tips Regarding Identity Theft for 2009
Written by Shane Tripcony
Posted On: January 12, 2009
Identity thieves acquire personal information for the purpose of committing fraud. They can use your Social Security number to make purchases, apply for credit, and sign up for insurance or cell phone services. While identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the US, you can protect yourself and thwart would-be crooks. Here's how.
- Safeguard your Social Security number and personal information. Don't print it on your checks, give it to merchants or medical offices, or have it on your driver's license. Keep your Social Security card, passport, and other important documents in a safe place, never in your wallet or purse. Memorize your place and date of birth, mother's maiden name, PINS, passwords and other information that may be used to identify you, and don’t write them down.
- Conduct online or phone business carefully. Don't provide personal information unless you have initiated the contact and you have an established business relationship with the company. Never use a debit card when making purchases on-line or over the phone; use a credit card instead. This limits your liability if you are victimized.
- Take care with mail. Use a locked mailbox for all incoming and outgoing mail. Shred anything containing private information before throwing it out--credit card receipts, offers of credit, business letters, bills, account statements, and insurance explanations of benefits. Bank online to keep canceled checks and bank statements out of the mail. If you’re expecting new (or reissued) credit cards or checks, contact the issuer if you don't receive them when expected.
- Protect your privacy at ATM machines, grocery checkouts, and restaurants. Beware of "skimming" devices that can capture your information. Use secure ATM machines under video surveillance, and cover the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN. Don't give an ATM card to a restaurant waiter or merchant if it will be out of your sight.
- Review your statements and credit reports. Review all account statements carefully for unauthorized use, and check your credit reports at least once per year. All consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. (See contact phone numbers for credit reporting bureaus, below.)
If despite your efforts your identity is stolen, notify the authorities and your creditors promptly. Your liability is in most cases limited to $50 if you take prompt action. Then do some damage control to save your credit rating.
- Contact the three major credit reporting bureaus and have a fraud alert placed on your account (which requires that new credit not be granted in your name without your specific approval).
- Contact each company under which credit or purchases have been fraudulently acquired or made (both by phone and in writing) to inform them of the situation and have them close the accounts.
- Keep copies of all correspondence related to the theft and get the names of all representatives you speak with at the credit reporting agencies and at the companies from which credit was fraudulently acquired.
- File a credit theft report with your local police.
- Contact the Social Security Administration to report fraudulent use of your social security number.
- File an Identity Theft Affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission at: www.consumer.gov/idtheft/pdf/affidavit.pdf; (For more information on identity theft, you can also access the FTC).
- Consider hiring an attorney to assist you in extreme cases.
Below you’ll find contact phones numbers and addresses where you can request credit reports and report identity theft/fraud to each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus:
- Equifax – 800-525-6285 and write to P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA 30374
- Experian – Call 1-888-397-3742 and write to P.O. Box 2104, Allen TX 75014
- Trans Union – Call 1-800-680-7289 and write to P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634
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