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Monday, January 4, 2010

It's a Jungle Out There--Tips to Avoid Identity Theft!

One of my friends sent me this e-mail last week, and I feel there is indeed some valuable information here that we all can use. There are so many things out there to protect ourselves from it seems... for instance on my last TWO trips to Europe one of my credit cards was stolen compromising my trip and of course my sense of well-being. The first time it was stolen somehow while I was buying tickets at the Paris Nord train station. The second time just from buying some boots in Gijon, Spain. So, I speak from experience. (Thanks to Brian F. diCaprio of CB-United for the info below. and to Wally Wood for the illustration! )

These are easy steps to take to make your private information more secure:

1. The next time you order checks have only your
initials (instead of first name) and last name put on
them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not
know if you sign your checks with just your initials or
your first name, but your bank will know how you sign
your checks.

2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards.
Instead, put "PHOTO ID REQUIRED."

3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit
card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number
on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four
numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the
number, and anyone who might be handling your check as
it passes through all the check-processing channels
will not have access to it.

4. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your
home phone. If you have a PO Box, use that instead of
your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use
your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your
checks, (DUH!). You can add it if it is necessary.
However, if you have it printed, anyone can get it.

5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy
machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card,
etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all
of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and
cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. Also carry
a photocopy of your passport when traveling either here
or abroad. We have all heard horror stories about fraud
that is committed on us in stealing a name, address,
Social Security number, credit cards.

6. When you check out of a hotel that uses cards for
keys (and they all seem to do that now), do not turn
the "keys" in. Take them with you and destroy them.
Those little cards have on them all of the information
you gave the hotel, including address and credit card
numbers and expiration dates. Someone with a card
reader, or employee of the hotel, can access all that
information with no problem whatsoever.

Unfortunately, the attorney who originally sent out this message, has first hand
knowledge because his wallet was stolen, as my friends was a few weeks ago
when I was helping him move out of a storage facility.
For the attorney, within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive
monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit
card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway
computer and received a PIN number from DMV to change
his driving record information online. Here is some
critical information to limit the damage in case this
happens to you or someone you know:

1. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards
immediately. The key is having the toll free numbers
and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call.
Keep those where you can find them.

2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction
where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves
to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a
first step toward an investigation (if there ever is
one). However, here is what is perhaps most important
of all (We did this for my friend.)

3. Call the three national credit reporting
organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on
your name and Social Security number. I had never heard
of doing that until advised by a bank that called to
tell me an application for credit was made over the
Internet in my name. The alert means any company that
checks your credit knows your information was stolen,
and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new
credit. By the time I was advised to do this, almost
two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been
done. There are records of all the credit checks
initiated by the thieves' purchases, none of which I
knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no
additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw
my wallet away this weekend (someone turned it in). It
seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.

Now, here are the numbers you always need to contact
about your wallet and contents being stolen:

1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
3.) TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line):

We pass along jokes on the Internet; we pass along just
about everything. So here is something perhaps useful!


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