Identity theft is a hot topic. You hear about it on television credit card commercials, and you hear people talking about it in their every day lives.

The problem is that many people don't take it seriously and they don't take the necessary protective measures.

I have talked with many folks on this subject and the majority say, ''It won't happen to me''. I guess I felt that way too, until my sister had it happen to her. You would have thought that since both my sister and I are security specialists, we would know better.


It all started when my sister moved from a rented townhouse to a new place. After the move, one of her credit card companies mailed her a blank check to use to transfer money. The problem was they sent it to her old address. The person who was living there took the checks, wrote in a sum of money, and cashed them at various locations.

My sister spent many days working with the local police, credit companies, credit bureaus and even the post office (theft of mail is a federal offence), trying to resolve the problem. Although she didn't lose huge amounts of money and her identity wasnt' compromised, the theft caused her many lost hours and many sleepless nights wondering what other mail would go to her former townhouse. She had to cancel all of her credit and debit cards and place a watch on her credit report to ensure that it wouldn't continue.

Here are some helpful tips to avoid identify theft:

  • Shred or burn papers with credit card or bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, etc.;
  • Don't put your Social Security number on anything, unless it is legally required. And don't have it printed on your checks. For those of you with driver licenses that routinely use your Social Security number, check with your DMV to see if they offer another option.
  • Check your credit report once or twice a year to make sure it doesn't have accounts you don't know about.

    The major credit reporting agencies are:

  • Equifax -- P.O. Box 105873, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5873 -- Telephone: 1-800-997-2493;
  • Experian Information Solutions (Formerly TRW) -- P.O. Box 949, Allen, Texas, 75013-0949 -- Telephone: 1-800-397-3742, and
  • TransUnion -- P.O. Box 390, Springfield, Penn. 19064-0390 -- Telephone: 1-800-916-8800.

    If you have been victimized, file a police report. You will need it when disputing charges with various creditors. Also remember to write letters to have erroneous and fraudulent items removed from your credit report.

    Stealing mail and papers isn't the only way to get information. Phishing is the newest wave in identity theft. This method uses various online techniques to fool you into providing financial and personal information to people waiting to take advantage of you.

    Phishing uses spam, email or pop-up messages to deceive Internet users into disclosing credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security numbers, passwords, and other sensitive information.

    These e-mails appear to come from a legitimate company, usually a financial institution or credit card issuer, urging you to immediately reply with personal information so your account is not deactivated.

    To increase the chances of people falling for this type of scam, they'll even use the company's logo, colors, and standard disclosure text. The e-mail usually will contain a link that takes you to a fake site made to look like the company's legitimate Web site.

    Here are some clues that an email is part of a phishing scam:

  • Look for misspellings and poor grammar;
  • The Web site often does not have ''http://'' in the address bar at the top.
  • There generally is an urgent tone or call to action. Phishing e-mails will allude to dire consequences, such as ''your account will be deactivated if you do not respond within 24 hours...''

    The Federal Trade Commision works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov, or call toll-free, 1-877-382-4357.

    For more information on identity theft, visit InsideID's Identity Theft Prevention and Recovery Guide.