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Q: I've heard that identity theft is a growing problem. How can I
prevent becoming a victim?
A: Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name and personal
information (such as your social security number, credit card number,
or drivers license number) to commit fraud or theft. An identity
thief can exploit your personal information in many ways. For
example, the thief might open a new bank account in your name, then
use it to write bad checks. Or the thief might open a credit card or
cell phone account in your name and run up charges that will never be
paid. Whatever the means, the result is the same: the debts and
delinquencies appear on YOUR credit report.
Identity theft is on the rise, but you can minimize the risk of
becoming a victim. In general, control the distribution of all
personal information: know who you release it to and why. If it's in
print, be mindful of where those papers are and, ultimately, how they
are discarded. Here are some specific safeguards to consider:
- Check your credit reports once a year for unauthorized activity.
The three major credit-reporting bureaus you should contact are
Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
- Monitor your mailbox, because thieves may obtain your information
by stealing or redirecting your mail. Remove your mail promptly, and
note any unexpected gaps in delivery--a thief can file a temporary
address change in your name. If you suspect foul play, contact your
local post office to find out if any if a change of address was
submitted for you.
- Don't just discard your mail: shred it. A crosscut paper shredder
works best. This is especially important for pre-approved credit card
offers (as well as credit card receipts).
- Don't carry your social security number or bank passwords in your
wallet. A stolen wallet can provide a thief with much more than
simply the cash inside.
- Remove your name from marketing lists. Many companies that you do
business with will sell or rent your name to others, creating another
venue for uncontrolled distribution of your personal information.
Contact the companies you work with and request that they remove your
name from these lists. You can reduce the number of pre-approved
credit card offers you receive by contacting 888-5OPT OUT. Also, be
sure to read this month's Resource Link for further information from
the Direct Marketing Association.
- Never provide telephone solicitors with personal information
unless you place the call and can verify who you are speaking to.
- Be cautious about providing personal information on the web,
especially when registering for free services or publications; this
provides a way for companies to collect your personal information.
The companies may use the information legitimately, but those they
rent or sell to may not. Read the privacy policies to understand how
your information will be used and with whom it may be shared. If
your information may be shared, look for an option that allows you to
request confidentiality. (Be assured that IRA.com fully respects your
privacy and does not sell, rent, or otherwise share any personal
information we collect without permission from you or in accordance
with the law.)
If you are a victim of identity theft, act immediately. Report it to
the police and to the credit reporting bureaus listed above. The
credit reporting bureaus can help you determine if new unauthorized
accounts have been opened and they will issue a fraud alert to stop
it. If new accounts already exist, contact the companies involved and
send a written statement explaining that this is a case of identity
theft (you have the right to examine all application and transaction
documents). Also, contact the companies and creditors you do business
with and freeze the activity on all appropriate accounts.