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7 Commandments for Preventing ID Fraud

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Identify theft is a growing problem in the US. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the following stats are surprising:

  • 10 million Americans — 4.6% of the adult population — became victims of identity theft in the past year alone.
  • 27 million Americans have been victimized within the past five years.
  • Identity theft cost the U.S. economy nearly $53 billion last year.
  • The incidence of identity theft increased by nearly 41% last year.

Here are some easy ways to protect yourself from identity theft, do it today!

Monitor your bank account statements and credit card bills

Watch these statements each month and contact your financial institution immediately if there's discrepancy in your records or if you notice something suspicious, such as a missing payment or an unauthorized withdrawal. While federal and state laws may limit your losses if you're a victim of fraud or theft, your protections may be stronger if you report the problem quickly and in writing. You also avoid the hassle and inconvenience of straightening things out.

If your mail is missing, this could be an early sign someone has stolen your mail and/or account information and diverted your

Avoid ID theft on the Internet

Scam artists are finding ways to steal information sent over the Internet or stored on computer systems. You can do a lot to protect yourself while shopping, banking, e-mailing or surfing on the Web. Don’t give bank account or other personal information in response to an unsolicited e-mail or when visiting a Web site that doesn't explain how your personal information would be protected.

Phishing scams that arrive by e-mail typically ask you to "update" your account information. But do not ever fall for this ruse. Legitimate organizations wouldn't ask you for these details - they already have the necessary information or they can obtain it in other ways. Do not ever respond to those e-mails and do not ever open any attachments unless you independently confirm the validity of the request by contacting the legitimate organization the way you usually would, not by using the e-mail address, Web site or phone number gived in the e-mail. Think first - act second.

Do not even send a "do not contact me again" notice. If you believe the e-mail is fraudulent, consider bringing it to the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (877-IDTHEFT). And if you do open and respond to a phony e-mail, contact your financial institution immediately.

Be careful with your mail

Chances are that your mail carrier will deliver a credit card or bank statement, an envelope containing a check, or other items that can be very valuable to a thief. Or perhaps you'll put in the mail a check or papers containing account numbers or other personal financial information. For incoming: Try to use a locked mailbox or other secure location, such as a P.O. box. If your mailbox isn't locked or in a secure location, try to promptly remove mail that's been delivered or move the mailbox to a safe place. For outgoing, containing a check or personal information: Deposit it in a U.S. Postal Service blue collection box, hand it to a mail carrier or take it to the post office instead of leaving it in your doorway or home mailbox.

Shred anything important before throwing it away

Dumpster divers will actually pick through garbage looking for pieces of paper containing Social Security numbers, bank account information and other details they can use to commit fraud. Instances of valuable trash include insurance information containing your SSN, blank checks mailed by financial institutions with offers to "write yourself a loan," canceled checks and bank statements. Before tossing out important items, destroy them, preferably using a "crosscut" shredder that turns paper into confetti that cannot be easily reconstructed. Keep in mind our suggestions for limiting the use of your SSN - which decreases the likelihood it will be found in your personal papers at home.

Keep your private numbers and information secure

If your wallet gets stolen, you should only carry what you really need. The rest, including your Social Security card, are best kept in a safe place. Be wary if you have roommates or if you let workers into your house because they sometimes are in the best position to find a personal information. Never pre-print your Social Security number, phone number or driver's license number or your checks. If your state puts Social Security numbers on driver's licenses, find out if you can use another number.

Be very careful with your personal computer or laptop

Install a software like firewalls and antivirus stop intruders from gaining remote access to your PC. Download and frequently update security "patches" offered by your operating system and software vendors to correct weaknesses that a hacker might exploit. Use passwords that will be hard for hackers to guess. For example, use a mix of numbers, symbols and letters instead of your date of birth or last. Shut down your computer when you're done with it. "Do not ever believe that you are safe if you merely log off the Internet," said Eloy Villafranca, an FDIC Community Affairs Officer. "Hackers can still get into your computer as long as there is power going to the PC."

Review your credit record regularly

Exercise your new rights under FACTA. Your credit report summarizes your history of paying debts and other bills. Credit reports are used by companies who need to have a legitimate need for the information. Previously you've had the right under federal law to obtain a free copy of your credit report in certain circumstances, including concerns about ID theft, so you can report a crime immediately.

Look for signs of actual or potential ID theft such as mention of a loan or card or lease you didn't sign up for, and requests for a copy of your credit record from a person you do not recognize (which could be a sign that a con artist is snooping around for personal information).

Under long-standing practices in the credit reporting industry, you've been able to request that a "fraud alert" be placed in your credit file if you suspect that a criminal is attempting to open new accounts in your name. But starting soon, FACTA expands your rights in these areas.

If you already are a victim of identity theft or you suspect you are a target, FACTA gives you specific legal rights to place a fraud alert in your credit files at all three major credit bureaus with a phone call or a letter to any one of their fraud departments.

See information on FACTA for more details.

2 comments

Mark Cruz
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Posted on Feb 3, 2012
Rosetta Jallow
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Posted on Mar 23, 2010

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Cheryl Mountford

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