Money Wise

Protecting Yourself and your Family from Identity Theft


Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

One of the most annoying and troublesome things you can experience is to have your identity stolen. It could very well be days or weeks before you discover that something is wrong, and by then plenty of damage has been done. Bills are run up in your name, your credit gets trashed, and you have to argue with jerk collectors over money that you haven't even spent. Just about every aspect of your life becomes an open book, and it's a long and painful process to fix everything.

MSNBC reports that 1 in 12 people will become a victim of identity theft. The most recent story regarding identity theft on a big scale happened with retailer TJ Maxx. Almost 46 million identities were stolen from the corporate giant over an 18-month period. When you consider that there are 300 million people in the U.S., that means almost one-sixth of the country's population was affected by this one incident!

Theft doesn't have to happen on a large scale like that. Many thefts occur because a close friend or even a family member who is bad with money will steal the information of someone they know so they can get a cell phone, open a bank account or even gamble online. This is the lowest of the low. If you sign someone else's name instead of your own and you don't have a signed and notarized power of attorney, you are a criminal who should go to jail.

This is just one more reason to show you that credit cards are never a good idea. Identity theft is real and the more cards you have, the easier a target you become. That's not to make you paranoid or feel like everyone's out to get you, but you must be very careful with your identity. This is a good example of why cash is the best way to buy something. Not only do you tend to spend less when you use cash, but your identity is safe. You also don't have to worry about being charged 18% interest when you use bills.
How Can I Tell It’s Happened?

Your identity can be stolen by obtaining bank statements,
credit card applications, checks from your trash or mail, purse or wallet, or getting your debit card number from a corporate database. Once a person has this information, he can wreck your good name. Since the crime may take days or even weeks before you noticed what happened, it’s easy for the criminal to commit several crimes before you’ve realized what occurred. This crime leaves your credit history in a mess and can take years to rebuild it.

Warning signs someone may have stolen your identity:
  • Checks disappear from your checkbook.
  • Your credit report shows accounts you didn’t open.
  • A call from a collection agency about a debt you didn’t incur.
  • Bank and billing statements don’t arrive on time.
  • A bill from a credit account you didn’t open.
  • Unauthorized charges on your debit, long distance or bank accounts.
  • You are turned down for a loan, mortgage or other forms of credit because of unauthorized debts on your credit report.

What Do I Do?
If you think you are a victim:

  • File a report with your local police department and keep a copy of the report for your personal records.
  • Obtain a copy of your credit report and look for any suspicious activity.
  • Report any suspicious charges and accounts to the appropriate credit issuers and credit bureaus immediately via the phone and in writing. Cancel the accounts.
  • If your purse or wallet is stolen, cancel all cards immediately and get replacements. Also, put a “stop payment” on all lost or stolen cards.
  • Contact the three main credit reporting companies to put a fraud alert on your credit report.

Some tips for avoiding identity theft:

  • Don't carry a checkbook. Pay by cash or credit card.
  • Don't carry your Social Security card with you or use your Social Security number as your driver's license number.
  • If you're a victim of identity theft, get a police report from your local police department, ask each of the three credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report, and fill out affidavits of fraud with each company that issued credit in your name. Keep these documents forever
  • Buy a paper shredder. Shred any documents listing your Social Security number and other financial information such as your bank account numbers and credit card numbers. This is the number one way of preventing identity theft.  

If someone has taken your identity and is cashing your checks or using your credit cards, you should: 
Report the situation immediately to your bank or credit card company. You may not have monetary liability because forgery and/or fraud is involved, but you will want the companies to be aware of the problem, as this is something that could affect your credit. In addition, follow these instructions to fully protect yourself: 
  a) Contact all three credit bureaus and issue a fraud alert. Check your credit report six months later and look for items you don't recognize.  
  b) Provide a copy of your driver's license to each agency's fraud unit in order to register an affidavit. 
  c) Contact the proper authorities in writing, via certified receipt request. 
  d) Inform your local police department, Social Security Administration and all creditors with whom you have accounts. 
  Credit bureau phone numbers: 
  Equifax: 800-525-6285 
  Experian: 888-397-3742 
  Transunion: 800-680-7289 
  SSA Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271 

  If a thief steals your identity and begins racking up debt: 
  a) Contact the fraud units of the three credit reporting agencies. Request that your account be flagged and add a victim's statement saying, "MY ID has been used to fraudulently apply for credit. Call me at this number to verify all applications." Find out how long the fraud alert will be posted and how to extend it if you need to. Check your credit report and look for items you don't recognize. 
  b) Contact your credit card companies and financial institutions to report the fraud. Get new cards, have old accounts closed with a memo stating that the account has been closed at the customer's request. Follow up in writing. 
  c) Call the police and get the crime on record, then get a copy of the police report. Keep a log of all conversations including date, name, phone number and the information provided. 
  d) Notify the Federal Trade Commission, which keeps a database of identity thefts. Phone: (888) FTC-HELP; Address: FTC, CRC-40, Washington D.C. 20580. 
  e) Notify you bank and if necessary, cancel checking and savings accounts and get new account numbers. Request a password that may be used in every transaction. Get a new ATM card, account number and password. Don't use your SS # or birthdate as a password. 
  f) Don't pay any bill or part of a bill resulting from identity theft. 

Also be aware there is a new scam in town, if you lose your wallet make sure you get with your insurance company.  There have been reports of people using someone else's health insurance information.  This racks up bills but it also adds information to your medical and prescription records that could hurt you job wise or health wise.  What if you are allergic to penicillin and it is not on your record or your record is changed by the thief because he or she gets penicillin and you go and have a prescription filled and your previous record is changed and it could be a health risk.  Be careful  Be smart

Thanks to Dave Ramsey and  Clark Howards websites