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Protect Your Good Name



This article provides practical steps you should take to protect your identity  from being stolen.  This article further explains immediate steps you should take if you believe may have been victimized by identity thieves.


 

 
Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States.  Therefore, you need to detect, deflect, and defend against Identity theft.
 
Detect Identity Theft
 
Obtain a credit report at a very minimum one time per year.  Calendar this event in whatever calendar system you use.  Do it now.
 
You can obtain a free annual credit report in a way designed to be safe and secure at www.annualcreditreport.com.  

One legal colleague who acted on this letter wrote:

"Hi Matt.  I sent for my free credit report.  Thanks for the info.  I can't believe how fast it was to obtain!...I've been meaning to send for a report for a long time now.  Thanks again.."
 
Be alert to signs of identity theft.  Watch for:
 
      Bills that unexpectedly do not arrive;
 
    
 Unexpected credit cards or account statements;

     
Denials of credit for no apparent reason;

     
Telephone calls or letters regarding purchases you did not make.
 
Deflect (Prevent) Identity Theft
 
SSN: Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
 
Insurance Number: Ask your health plan to issue you another number other than your Social Security number.
 
Buy and use a shredder.  Shred documents with personal information before you throw them in the trash. Shred credit card offers and "convenience checks" that you don't use.
 
Opt Out: Stop most pre-approved credit card offers (which identity thieves can steal from your mail) by calling 888-567-8688 or go online at www.optoutprescreen.com.
 
Bills and Statements: Immediately open your credit card bills and bank statements. Carefully review them.  Look for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals.  If you find any, report such immediately.
 
Bills not arriving: If bills do not arrive on time, call to verify that they were sent. If they were sent, you need to immediately investigate the matter further. 
 
Phishing: Scam artists "phish" for victims by pretending to be banks, stores, government agencies, as well as Ebay or Paypal.  Phishing can occur by telephone, e-mail and regular mail. If you did not initiate the contact, then don't give out your personal information. Don't respond to a request to verify your account number or password.
 
Computers - Passwords: Use strong passwords with at least 8 characters.  Combine letters and numbers (and even symbols as I understand it).  Make it easy for you to remember but difficult for others to guess.  Avoid birthdates, maiden names, and the like.  Don't reveal your passwords to others.
 
At websites that require a login, use a password that is different than your primary user ID and password.
 
Computer Intruder Defenses: Use firewall, virus and spyware protection software that you update regularly.  For personal, non-commercial use, there is good quality, free software that you can obtain.
 
Internet Browsers: Set Internet Explorer browser security to at least "medium." Alternatively, use Firefox browser (www.mozilla.com).
 
Link Leary: Don't click on links in pop-up windows.  Don't click links in emails which you suspect might be spam.
 
My Space: Reveal as little as possible in online profiles, blogs and personal journals. Make sure your children understand this.
 
Online Shopping: online with caution.  Investigate and explore a Web site before entering credit card numbers or other personal information. If there is no privacy policy posted, shop elsewhere! 
 
Only enter personal information on secure Web pages with: "https" in address bar (not "http"); and a padlock symbol at the bottom of the browser window. (These indicate that your information will be encrypted or scrambled).
 
Ask Questions: Question those who ask for personal information that appears to you be out of place for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask: “How will the information be protected?” Ask if they will agree to transact without giving such information? If you're not satisfied with the answers you receive, consider going elsewhere.
  
Deleting Computer Files: If you sell or dispose a computer or hard disk, "wipe clean" the disk. Remember, deleting files or disk formatting may not be sufficient. One computer expert suggests using a digital "file shredder" software which can be obtained at www.download.com. At this website, search for "file shredder" or "secure delete".
 
Public Places: Exercise extreme caution at public Internet terminals, at ATMs, and at telephone booths.  Watch for "shoulder surfing" ID thieves to seeking to learn your password, PIN code or calling card number.
 
In public places, keep a close watch on laptops, PDAs and cell phones.  Password protect access to these devices.
 
Freeze Your Account. A security freeze prevents potential creditors from accessing your file. Regarding identity theft, if you freeze your credit files, even someone who has your name and Social Security number would probably not be able to obtain credit in your name.  For more information, addresses, directions, and form letters, see: www.privacy.ca.gov/sheets/cis10securityfreeze.htm
 
Defend against ID Theft
 
Take the following immediate steps to take if you have you been scammed, bilked, or victimized by identity thieves.
 
Be quick.  If you suspect that you have become an identity theft victim, take quick action to minimize damage.
 
Take these steps immediately:
 
Call the police if fraud or theft occurs.  Obtain a copy of the police report (or, at least, the number).  Submit the report or report number to your creditors and any others that may require proof of the crime.
      
Contact your bank, store or financial institution if a credit card or other account may have been compromised.
 
Close accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
 
Use the ID Theft Affidavit  (http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/pdf/affidavit.pdf) when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
 
Contact credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, or Transunion).  Ask them to attach a fraud alert to your credit report.
      
Contact the post office. Determine whether or not any change of address has been filed.
 
Contact your Internet provider.  Create or ask for a new password and/or email address.
 
Disclaimer  

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