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Identity Theft: How And Why To Protect Your Against Identity Theft


Identity theft is someone else pretending to be you to use your credit to make purchases, or get cash from your credit account, or open a new credit account you don't know about, or even borrow money from a bank. Identity thieves have even been known to use other people's medical records to obtain health benefits.

Identity theft is a federal crime.

Identity victims are NOT responsible for debts incurred, or activities of, imposters. However, victims are stuck cleaning up the mess -- which can be very time consuming. There can also be a loss if you can't prove the transaction was done by an imposter rather than yourself.

Identity theft insurance is generally not necessary. Many companies capitalize on the media stories about identity theft by suggesting that you purchase Identity Theft Insurance. Generally accepted advice is that the insurance is not necessary if you take a few simple steps which we describe in this article. Identity theft insurance generally provides no more protection than you could obtain on your own.If you are a person who believes in no risk at all, consider both purchasing  identity insurance and taking pro-active steps. (For information about identity theft insurance, click here.)

Steps to consider to protect against identity theft include the following. 

Step 1: Be Stingy About Giving Out Personal Information

  • Only give out your personal information, such as Social Security Number, date of birth, mother's maiden name, if you have reason to trust the person with whom you are dealing.
  • The Department of Justice suggests you adopt a "need to know" approach to your personal data. Do not give personal information to someone who calls or e-mails you and asks for personal information -- no matter how they identify themselves, or where they say they are from. If you think the request could be legitimate, call back to a number you know is the number for the source the person identifies. Don't call a phone number the caller or e-mail gives you.For instance, if a caller tells you that you're entitled to a new credit card or won a prize -- and they only need personal information such as your Social Security number, ask them to put it in writing. You can then verify the identity of the company, and call the independent number. You can check the reputation of companies at the Better Business Bureau: offsite link
  • If you are going to be in a hospital or other facility, or if you are going to travel, have your mail held at your local post office or have someone you trust collect and hold it for you.
  • When you receive anything in the mail which includes personal information (such as pre-approved credit card offers, bills and documents), rip it up before throwing away.
  • Do not: 
    • Leave credit card receipts at restaurants or in stores.
    • Leave credit card receipts lying around at home. Destroy them or store them safely.
    • Leave envelopes with paid bills (and personal information) in open mail boxes. Deposit them directly into a U.S. Postal Service mail box.

Step 2. Check Your Monthly Statements

  • You should receive a monthly statement in the mail from each of your bank and credit accounts or be able to access the statement on line. You should also get periodic statements from your stock and bond brokerage account.
  • If you don't get a statement each month, or can't access the online account, call the bank or company immediately to find out why. (You'll find the toll free number on the back of your credit card and on your statements.)
  • Carefully check your statements to look for charges you didn't make or authorize. Keep your statements and copies of your checks for at least a year in case you need them to prove your claim. (You'll probably need to keep them for tax purposes in any event.)
  • If there are any unauthorized charges or other changes, contact the bank or company immediately and let them know.

Step 3: Check What The Credit Bureaus Say About You Several Times A Year

  • Under federal law, each year you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies.
  • While the agencies do not necessarily receive reports from the same creditors, they all generally receive reports from the national creditors, such as American Express, Visa, Discovery and Master Card.
  • Make an alert on your computer, or a note in your diary, for every four months to call one of the agencies. Since you are only calling each one, one time a year -- it's free.

Step 4: Put A Freeze On New Credit Accounts 

  • A security freeze on your credit accounts means that your credit file cannot be seen by potential creditors, insurance companies or employers doing background checks unless you give your specific consent. Without information about your credit account, companies will generally not open new accounts so thieves are prevented from getting credit in your name.
  • You can unfreeze your accounts at any time, generally by simply using a PIN. There may be a slight delay in getting credit during the time it takes to unfreeze your account.
  • There is no reason to pay anyone else to put a freeze on your accounts. You can easily do it yourself.
  • Each of the three major national credit bureaus has a service permitting security freezes for a small amount of money. The services charge to initiate a freeze and another charge to lift it temporarily or to remove it. To learn more, contact each of the credit bureaus as follows:
  • Many states also have a security-freeze law which permits you to freeze your accounts. Freezes with the credit bureaus are more encompassing because in some states, employers and landlords can look at your credit files in spite of a credit freeze. If this is of concern to you, check your state law. For a list of state security laws and fees, go to offsite link Click on the link to "State Freeze Requirements And Fees"

Step 5: Check Your Medical Records And Put A Freeze On Them As Well To Prevent Medical Identity Theft

  • Ask your doctors for a list of everyone who has accessed your medical records in the past twelve months.
  • Ask your doctor's office to alert you each time anyone attempts to access your medical records -- other than close family members the office knows.
  • Review all medical bills and correspondence you receive about medical services -- such as Explanation of Benefits forms. The idea is to look for treatments that you did not receive.
  • In case a thief changes the mailing address: ask your insurer for a list of all payments made under your insurance plan every 6 months
  • Report all suspicions of medical theft immediately to the doctor involved as well as your insurer. If it turns out there was theft, report it to your local police. Get a copy of the report or at least the file number.

Step 6: Use Passwords That Are Not Easy To Guess. Don't Use The Same Password For All Your Accounts.

  • For all accounts that contain information about you, or can be used to make purchases once entered, create a password that's difficult for someone else to guess- even if they know you well.
  • It's easy for you  to remember the name of a pet, or a child, or your telephone number or address. It's just as easy for someone else to guess such a password.
  • At least use a combination of letters and numbers. Preferably the combination would be unexpected.

Step 7. Use Credit Cards Instead Of Checks Where Possible. Don't Leave Used Credit Slips, Or Unused Or Cancelled Checks Lying Around

  • Checks usually include your address. They always include your account number and signature.
  • Only give checks to people and companies you trust.
  • Keep unused and cancelled checks in a secure location.

Step 8: Guard Your Laptop And Mobile Phone And Make Them Difficult For People To Obtain Information 

  • The odds are, your laptop and mobile phone are filled with usable personal information.
  • In addition to taking precautions to make sure your information isn't stolen:
    • Password protect your contents with a difficult to guess password.
    • On your laptop:
      • Make sure your password protection cannot be avoided by entering from a floppy or CD drive.
      • Check to see if data encryption is built into your software program.

Step 9. Take Care When Using The Internet

  • Be careful of what you download. Make sure you only download information from sources you trust.
  • Avoid sending personal data over unsecured Wi-Fi networks and web sites.
  • Do not use public computers for financial mattersof any kind.
  • Encrypt your wireless connection so your information isn't easily breached.
  • Don't respond to e mails asking for personal information.

Step 10: Don't share your phone number or birthday on social media sites

NOTE: If you have a young child, monitor his or her identity as well. Check credit bureaus for any use of your child's Social Security number. Watch for mail addresed to the child such as unauthorized bills.

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