How to Protect Against Identity Theft

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Identity theft is a hot topic. You hear about it on television creditcard commercials, and you hear people talking about it in their every daylives.

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

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

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

My sister spent many days working with the local police, creditcompanies, credit bureaus and even the post office (theft of mail is afederal offence), trying to resolve the problem. Although she didn't losehuge amounts of money and her identity wasnt' compromised, the theftcaused her many lost hours and many sleepless nights wondering what othermail would go to her former townhouse. She had to cancel all of hercredit and debit cards and place a watch on her credit report to ensurethat 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 islegally required. And don't have it printed on your checks. For those ofyou 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 itdoesn'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 whendisputing charges with various creditors. Also remember to write lettersto have erroneous and fraudulent items removed from your credit report.

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

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

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

    To increase the chances of people falling for this type of scam, they'lleven use the company's logo, colors, and standard disclosure text. Thee-mail usually will contain a link that takes you to a fake site made tolook 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 atthe top.
  • There generally is an urgent tone or call to action. Phishinge-mails will allude to dire consequences, such as ''your account will bedeactivated if you do not respond within 24 hours...''

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

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

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