identity theft: How To Safeguard Your Privacy and Keep Your Good Name

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1 identity theft: How To Safeguard Your Privacy and Keep Your Good Name Do you know anyone who has been the victim of identity theft? If not, odds are you will soon. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States. Making matters worse, once a theft has appropriated someone else s identity, the burden is on the victim to prove their innocence. Common tactics practiced by identity thieves include: Stealing personal property, such as wallets, purses, and even PDAs Dumpster diving going through your trash to look for discarded information such as pre-approved credit card offers, receipts, and bank statements Using a change of address form to divert your mail Obtaining your credit report by posing as an employer or landlord or someone else who has a legal right to your credit report Hacking into your computer Convincing you via phone or to reveal private information, such as Social Security numbers, bank account information, or credit card numbers. Once someone has your information, it can be used against you to: Run-up unpaid credit card bills Change the billing address on your credit card account so you will not see fraudulent charges or realize there is a problem Purchase a car using your credit Forge checks Open accounts in your name As you can see, identity theft can ruin your name and reputation; and it could take years to clear up. When it comes to preventing identity theft, taking a few simple precautions could pay huge dividends. How can you protect yourself? Here are a few steps you can take to not become a victim of the crime that the Federal Trade Commission estimates affected 1.1 million Americans in 2001 alone. Some of these are just common sense, while others are tips you may not have thought of! Top Ten Easy Steps To Protect Your Good Name 1 Monitor your credit reports. This will alert you to any issues that may crop up. The FTC recommends you order a credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. The reports are available for a small fee, or at no charge if you have been denied credit in the past 60 days. In some states or municipalities, you may be legally entitled to these reports free of charge. Check with the credit bureau

2 when ordering the report. Credit bureau contact information is in the Handy Reference Guide section of this document. 2 Don t give out financial information such as checking account and credit card numbers and especially your social Security number on the phone unless you initiate the call and know the person or organization you re dealing with. If someone calls you claiming to be from an organization you do business with such as a bank or credit card company get their name and ask if you can call them back. Then verify the number you are calling. 3 Be creative in selecting Personal Identification Numbers for your ATM and credit cards, and passwords that enable you to access other accounts. Do not use birth dates, part of your Social Security Number or driver s license number, address, or children s or spouse s names. Remember: If someone has stolen your identity, he or she probably has some or all of this information. Experts recommend that you use a password consisting of at least seven characters and includes both letters and numbers. It is a good idea to assign different passwords for all of your accounts, logins, and security words. That way even if one password is stolen, all your other information is protected. Use Passwords Plus to organize all your passwords so that you can use unique PINs and logins for each account without worriyng about keeping track of them. 4 Do not pre-print your driver s license, telephone number, or Social Security numbers on your checks. While this can be convenient when paying by check, the extra time it may take to write in this information when needed can pay off! If your checks are ever lost or stolen, this information will not be immediately available to the thief. Of course, it is a good idea to report lost or stolen checks to your bank right away. When you get new checks, make sure none are missing. 5 Guard your Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) for your ATM and credit cards, and don t write on or keep your PINs with your cards. Do NOT just leave passwords in a text file on your computer, or otherwise unsecured. It is too easy for a hacker to access this information. 6 Invest in a shredder. It is a low-tech way to ensure that your private information remains private. You should shred your ATM and credit card receipts, as well as all those pre-approved offers that clutter up your mailbox. Use Passwords Plus to store information on your PC, Mac, handheld or smartphone! This informatin will be encrypted, so it is still conveniently accessible but only to you. 7 Don t put outgoing mail in or on your mailbox. Drop it into a secure, official Postal Service collection box. Thieves may use your mail to steal your identity. 8 If regular bills fail to reach you, call the company to find out why. Someone may have filed a false change-of-address notice to divert your information to his or her address. 9 If you lose your wallet or it is stolen, do not delay in contacting your credit card companies and bank. It is a good idea to plan for this so you are prepared. Keep a list of all your account numbers and bank customer service information including 800 numbers in a safe place if you store them electronically, make sure the file is encrypted. Then, log all entries to ensure that you ll be able to follow up as needed. Passwords Plus has a notes section where you can log calls and letters, so you ll have all your records in one place. 10 If you see an unrecognizable charge on your credit card accounts, pay attention! Investigate right away in case the charge is fraudulent.

3 What should you do if you fear you have become a victim of Identity Theft? You might feel overwhelmed when you first suspect you might be a victim of Identity Theft. However, time is of the essence. Here are four steps that you should take right away to begin the process of clearing your name, and your credit report: 1 Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. You can start by calling, but be sure to document the call and follow up in writing. Tell them that you're an identity theft victim and request that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file, as well as a victim's statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. Order copies of your credit reports from the credit bureaus. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, and you request it in writing. Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. Also, check the section of your report that lists "inquiries." Where "inquiries" appear from the companies that opened the fraudulent account(s), request that these "inquiries" be removed from your report. Continue checking the account periodically. Please note: Fraud alerts and victim statements are voluntary services provided by the credit bureaus. Creditors do not have to consider them when granting credit. That s why it s vital to continue checking your reports periodically. In addition, fraud alerts and victim statements expire; you need to renew them periodically. Ask each bureau about its policy. 2 Contact the local police department to file a report. This can bolster your case with creditors, even if the identity thief has not been caught. Be sure to keep a copy of the police report. 3 File a report with the Federal Trade Commission. You can call IDTHEFT for assistance. They can provide you with a copy of the Identity Theft affidavit, a handy form that you can send to companies to report that a fraudulent account has been opened in your name. The form is also available at 4 Review all your accounts. Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or those that were opened fraudulently. Sample letters are included in this packet. Handy Reference Guide CREDIT BUREAU INFORMATION *While an initial report may be made by phone, it is always advisable to make a written report. Equifax Experian TransUnion Website To order a report To report fraud by phone* Write to: P.O. Box P.O. Box 9532 Fraud Victim Assistance Atlanta, GA Allen, TX P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA FTC Identity Theft Hotline: IDTHEFT ( ) Identity Theft Affadavit:

4 Helpful Sample Documents Sample Dispute Letter Credit Bureau Date Your Name Your Address Your City, State, Zip Code Complaint Department Name of Credit Bureau Address City, State, Zip Code Dear Sir or Madam: I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. The items I dispute also are circled on the attached copy of the report I received. (Identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.) I am a victim of identity theft, and did not make the charge(s). I am requesting that the item be blocked to correct my credit report. Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation) supporting my position. Please investigate this (these) matter(s) and block the disputed item(s) as soon as possible. Sincerely, Your name Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing.)

5 Sample Dispute Letter For Existing Credit Accounts Date Your Name Your Address Your City, State, Zip Code Complaint Department Name of Credit Company Address City, State, Zip Code Dear Sir or Madam: I am writing to dispute a fraudulent (charge or debit) attributed to my account in the amount of $. I am a victim of identity theft, and I did not make this (charge or debit). I am requesting that the (charge be removed or the debit reinstated), that any finance and other charges related to the fraudulent amount be credited as well, and that I receive an accurate statement. Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence to describe any enclosed information, such as police report) supporting my position. Please investigate this matter and correct the fraudulent (charge or debit) as soon as possible. Sincerely, Your name Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing.)

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