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:
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 trash.
|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
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now that the Glass-Steagall Act has been repealed.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.
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.
While shopping online, only buy from secure
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
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 their cards.
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 -- June 27, 2000