Protect yourself from
Identity theft claims 10 million victims
a year and costs consumers and businesses approximately $52
billion annually, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
You can reduce your chances of becoming a victim by educating
yourself. If you should be victimized, you'll want to discover
the fraud as quickly as possible and take immediate steps to
stop the perpetrator. The King County prosecutor's office in
Seattle, Wash., has assembled this guide that can help you protect
yourself against identity theft.
Identity thieves assume your name,
date of birth, Social Security number and credit rating --
which they ruin by posing as you to buy or rent things. They
may also get a driver's license and citations in your name,
then fail to appear, resulting in a warrant for your arrest.
The problem is growing, due in
part to widespread publication of your personal and financial
information on the Internet. Sources of this information include
merchants, creditors, court files and theft. Your information
can be stolen from your home, car, mail or business.
If your identity is stolen, it
can take more than a year of concerted effort to clear up
your credit record. You will likely be refused credit, including
mortgages; collection agencies will call you at home and work;
merchants will likely refuse to accept your checks. You could
be arrested and even held in jail.
Prevention tips -- Steps
you can take now to minimize the risk of your identity being
- Never leave your wallet, purse, checkbook or credit
receipts in your car. Car prowling is a prime source
for identity theft. Thieves know to look in merchandise
bags for credit receipts -- which often print your credit
- Have your mail delivered to a secure location.
Mail box theft is another common source for identity thieves.
Your credit card bill has everything a criminal needs to
make purchases by telephone or on the Internet.
- Don't put bill payments in your unlocked mailbox for
- Carefully review your account statements and credit
bills. Contest any unauthorized items or entries.
- Don't give out personal information over the telephone
unless you initiated the call. Identity thieves can
pose as representatives of banks, ISPs, collection agencies,
government agencies, etc., to get you to reveal your account
numbers, passwords, Social Security number or mother's maiden
- Never use a debit card or a check when shopping online.
Once stolen from your account, it can be difficult to recover
your money. Consider using one credit card only for your
online purchases. Use a secure browser when sending credit
card numbers over the Internet. Review your bill carefully
as soon as you get it. Contest unauthorized charges.
- Keep a list of all your credit/debit cards, card numbers
and issuer phone numbers. This will facilitate your
reports to creditors/banks if your purse/wallet is stolen.
- Memorize your ATM password. Never store the password
in your purse or wallet.
- Shred your financial garbage. That includes credit
receipts, pre-approved credit offers, credit checks. Cross-cut
shredders are best.
- Cancel unused credit cards and charge accounts.
- Be stingy with your Social Security number. Don't
give it out to everyone who asks. Make thoughtful decisions
regarding whether the requester really needs it. Ask to
use other types of personal identifiers.
- Do not print your Social Security number or driver's
license number on your checks. Carry only the number
of checks you will need on a given day. Keep pads of blank
checks in a safe place.
- Never carry anything with your Social Security number
on it. If your health insurance card shows your Social
Security number, ask your insurer for a new card without
the Social Security number. Until you get your new insurance
card, carry it only when you need to use it.
- Prevent credit reporting agencies from selling your
name, Social Security number, address and credit rating.
Merchants who want to offer you credit cards or sell you
merchandise buy your financial information. This is a source
for personal information that can ultimately be published
on the Internet. Contact the "Opt out" option
of all credit reporting agencies.
- Prevent your creditors and identity clearinghouses
from selling or "sharing" your personal information.
Your creditors generally sell or "share" your
name, address, Social Security number, financial information,
spending and bill paying habits unless you tell them not
to. This information often finds its way to clearinghouses
for personal information, and to the Internet. Find sample
letters preventing disclosure at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,
and JUNKBUSTERS, www.junkbusters.com.
Clearinghouses and other publishers of personal information
are listed below.
- Obtain and review your credit reports regularly.
Check all three major credit reporting agencies. Dispute
incorrect information. Be sure the agency has a correct
address for you, especially if you have moved or suspect
your identity has been stolen. Contact information for credit
reporting agencies is below.
Illustrations by Brandy Kesl