By Marige O'Brien
Unfortunately, identity theft has become the crime of the new millenium. Though credit card companies and various agencies work to prevent it, it is, ultimately, the responsibility of each individual to take their own precautionary measures against this crime. Fortunately, there are some simple changes that can be taken, even today, to protect ourselves and, better still, prevent a theft from taking place at all. Below are 11 recommended steps that anyone can take, today, to prevent this from happening or to lessen the effects if it has already happened.
At the end of this article is a list of telephone numbers EVERYONE should keep on file.
1. When ordering checks never put your full name on them, only your first initial and last name. If your checkbook is stolen the thief will not know how you sign your checks. But, because your bank keeps a copy of your signature on file, it will and can stop the payment of checks with forged signatures.
2. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the whole account number on the "For" line. Your check passes through many hands, both at the credit card company and at the bank anyone of which has access to all the information on your check, as well as your credit card number. Instead, put only the last four digits of the account number, which is sufficient for the credit card company to identify your account.
3. Put your WORK phone number on your checks instead of your home phone number. And, if you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. In this way, a thief cannot gain access to other accounts you have, some of which use the the name-address-telephone number combination for verification.
4. NEVER pre-print your social security or driver's license numbers on your checks. You can add it, if necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
5. Do NOT sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put "PHOTO ID REQUIRED" in the signature area or just leave it blank. To be really diligent, while paying, if the clerk does not ask for a photo ID, make mention of this and insist on showing it. It will teach them to be more diligent as well.
6. Be diligent. In rural areas, one way a thief can steal your identity is through your mail delivery. Though it is a Federal crime to go into someone else's mailbox, even to put something IN it, many mailboxes are left unattended for hours a day after the mail arrives. If you are missing any bills, especially a combination of utility and credit card bills, contact the companies immediately. With this combination thieves have been known to put in a "change of address" as they pay the minimum on a bill, then call and have a new card issued with the new address, even a new name on a secondary bill. Within a week, the thief may be using your credit card without ANYTHING APPEARING TO HAVE BEEN STOLEN.
7. While traveling abroad, keep a photocopy of your passport with you. If the original is stolen, you can take the copy to the local consul and prevent it from being used again.
8. Photocopy both sides of the entire contents of your wallet, including driver's license, social security card, etc. Keep these copies in a safe place so that, if your wallet is lost or stolen, you have a quick inventory of what was in it. Write the contact information for each company/agency with this copy-- the sooner you can report the theft, the better. Having the combination of your SSN and Driv Lic, as well as your credit card information and address, thieves can do more than simply make purchases. They can also get MORE credit cards, made out in their own name, make major purchases, such as vehicles, even apply for bank loans-- all in your name. Remember, time is of the essence.
9. Even online identities must be protected, especially email addresses related to individual websites. Spammers use robots to comb the internet for email addresses like these, then insert your email address in the "from" section of their Spam, thus avoiding detection or causing the complaints to be reverted to you. Scammers use this information as the contact email for disreputable sales, such as in auction sites like eBay. There are simple, free programs available (such as the scrambler at acme-web-hosting.com) that will scramble the email addresses on websites.
PROTECTION, POST THREAT
If or when your credit cards or checkbook are lost or stolen there are still several steps you can take to lessen the severity of the theft. Most of all, the faster you act, the less you will suffer. Identity thieves know they are working against the clock and will dump your information as soon as they sense that the theft has been detected. If you're very dilligent, you may escape with little or no damage.
1. Call the 3 national credit reporting organizations (these telephone numbers are listed below) immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit or charges.
2. File a police report immediately within the jurisdiction where your wallet stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).
3. Alert the credit card companies and your bank personally.
4. Sign Up with a reputable identity theft prevention service. Don't assume you are part of one just because your credit card company has some protection available. This only protects your account with THEM. These companies will collect all the necessary information from you and, with one call, most or all of the steps, above, will be handled by them.
Below are the contact numbers you need When your wallet has been stolen. The first three are the major credit agencies, and the fourth is the fraud line at the Social Security Administration. A driver's license or passport will be reported when the police are notified.
1. Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
2. Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
3. Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
Though Identity theft is one of the worst crimes of our time, these simple steps and pre-cautions can save the average consumer months, if not years, of grief and very real damage to their financial status. No one is safe.--mo
About The Author
Marige O'Brien works as a writer, web designer and Internet Marketer. Visit her Website, Tracker Mo's Den (www.trackermo.com). For other solutions to identity theft, visit (www.prepaidlegal.com/hub/marige), which offers Identity Theft Shield.