How to prevent identity
In 1996, Mari Frank had her identity stolen when a
stranger went online and accessed her credit report. Ten months
later, Frank, of Laguna Niguel, Calif., received a phone call from
a creditor about "her" $11,000 debt. In total, she owed upward of
$50,000, including charges for a red convertible the imposter bought
in her name. The culprit even found Frank's business cards and impersonated
"I got weak in the knees," Frank says. "Then I got
mad as hell and decided I wasn't going to take it any more."
So Frank set out to help victims of identity theft
-- there are more than 750,000 each year. She founded identitytheft.org,
a site that's chock full of useful information on how to prevent
identity theft and how to deal with it when it happens to you.
"You may already be a victim of identity theft," says
Frank, who estimates 25 percent of the American population has had
its identity stolen at one time or another. The schemes range from
stealing credit card numbers to renting apartments, buying cars
and getting loans in someone else's name.
Frank offers advice on how to protect your identity
online and offline:
|Credit reporting agencies
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634
P.O. Box 1017
Allen, TX 75031
P.O. Box 740250
Atlanta, GA 30374-0250
Shred your important papers.
Don't just throw them out or rip them into pieces. Shredding
is the best way to keep "dumpster divers" from obtaining credit
card offers, receipts and other personal information from your
Opt out. Credit reporting agencies
make billions of dollars each year by selling your information
to credit card companies. You can have your name removed from
the lists by calling (888) 5-OPT-OUT, or mail Frank's pre-written
letter to the credit agencies.
Write letters to the companies you deal
with asking that they do not share, trade, or sell your personal
information. Your personal information changes hands more frequently
now that the Glass-Steagall
Act has been repealed.
Get your credit report from all three credit
reporting agencies at least twice a year. You may catch fraudulent
activity before you receive a call from creditors. If you're
already a victim of fraud, you can get the report for free,
otherwise the report costs no more than $8.25. To find out more,
How to get a credit report."
Protect your Social Security
number. Don't have the number printed on your checks. Also,
don't change your Social Security number if your identity has
been stolen. You'll lose the credit you've built up, and it
looks funny to creditors.
Don't fill out the information
on warranty cards. There's no reason you should have to tell
these people your life story, especially because they could
sell that information.
Talk with your employer and
your accountant about how your files are handled. Can just anyone
access personal information from your files? Does your company
protect its computers with firewalls? Where are your personnel
files kept? Be careful with pay stubs as well. They contain
all of your valuable information.
If you receive a call from
a company asking for your credit card number or other personal
information, just say "no!" This is a very popular scam.
online, only buy from secure sites. Read a site's privacy
policy about sharing your information. If you're uncomfortable
with the policy, don't do business there. If you don't feel
safe using its server, call in your order.
off your computer at the end of the day or week. Cookies create
a profile of where you go on the Internet.
Use firewalls on your home computer so it
can't be hacked. For more information on hacking and viruses
hacking and virus protection tips."
Your e-mail is not safe. Don't
put something in there you wouldn't write on a post card. Your
e-mail and voice-mail at work are your company's property, so
don't leave personal information on either system.
If you're a victim of identity theft
It's probably better to contact
companies yourself. Many attorneys will not take identity theft
cases because there is often no restitution from which they
can be paid.
Try and settle an identity
theft case whenever you can. Many law enforcement agencies do
not consider identity theft crimes a high priority, so recover
what you can.
If you are a victim of identity
theft, talk quickly to credit card companies. Not only will
you not have to pay the huge bills run up in your name, but
the companies also probably will forgive the $50 in unauthorized
charges cardholders are required to pay when someone steals
You can deduct your losses
from fraud according to the 165E federal tax code. You can also
deduct any books
you purchase to help you solve the situation.
resources to report the fraud and fix the problem.
"As we get further into the new millennium," Frank
warns, "our privacy is going to be nonexistent unless the consumers
stand up and take control over their personal information."
-- Posted: April 19, 2000