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Thursday, February 23, 2006

How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

OK, some of you reading this may have at one time in your life been a victom of identity theft. Last year the number of identity theft victims surpassed 1.5 million. How can you protect yourself?

The FTC is an excellent resource. Your bank's website probably also lists suggestions.

Check your credit report annually for anything fishy. Here are the top credit bureaus:

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374- 0241

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); http://www.experian.com/; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; http://www.transunion.com/; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

How identity thieves get your personal information:

They get information from businesses or other institutions by:
stealing records or information while they're on the job
bribing an employee who has access to these records
hacking these records
conning information out of employees
They may steal your mail, including bank and credit card statements, credit card offers,
new checks, and tax information.
They may rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or public trash dumps in a
practice known as "dumpster diving."
They may get your credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to them, or by
posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your
report.
They may steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a data
storage device in a practice known as "skimming." They may swipe your card for an actual
purchase, or attach the device to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card.
They may steal your wallet or purse.
They may complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location.
They may steal personal information they find in your home.
They may steal personal information from you through email or phone by posing as legitimate
companies and claiming that you have a problem with your account. This practice is known as
"phishing" online, or pretexting by phone.

How identity thieves use your personal information:
They may call your credit card issuer to change the billing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to a
different address, it may be some time before you realize there's a problem.
They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the credit cards and
don't pay the bills, the delinquent accounts are reported on your credit report.
They may establish phone or wireless service in your name.
They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
They may counterfeit checks or credit or debit cards, or authorize electronic transfers in your
name, and drain your bank account.
They may file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred under
your name, or to avoid eviction.
They may buy a car by taking out an auto loan in your name.
They may get identification such as a driver's license issued with their picture, in your name.
They may get a job or file fraudulent tax returns in your name.
They may give your name to the police during an arrest. If they don't show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.

If you find you have been a victim of identity theft:

Close all accounts that you believe were used fradulently

File a police report

File a complaint with the FTC

What you can do:

Don't carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.
Treat your mail and trash carefully.
Don't print your SSN or Driver's License number on your checks.

For more suggestions, please read the full FTC report:
Taking Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft

3 Comments:

Blogger TheCFiles said...

I am not a 'blogger', and therefore it was easier using Anomynous than going through the hassle of registering an account I have no wish for nor will use as a blog, just to post some comments. But since the system has apparently been manipulated and I have no choice but to 'register' just to post a comment, whatever. That was fun.

I am actually very well educated as to Identity Theft. Probably more so than the average person. Our neighborhood has been heavily involved with Neighborhood Watch-and I learned a great deal at the meetings. Also, the girl in charge specializes in ID theft and gave us some great information.

Not only that-but I personally had to go through the process when UCSD had its computers broken into awhile back. As a possible victim of ID theft, I was given a great deal of useful information as to how to prevent it and what steps to take for my own safety. (Including asking for Credit Reports from all 3 agencies and examining them carefully). I later was responsible for educating our entire neighborhood about this issue as part of our Neighborhood Watch email list, by posting all the relevant information and informing folks who may have gone to other colleges affected.

Being a graduate of UCSD, my information was available to certain parties who had broken into their computers containing former student's information. So I am VERY educated and familiar with the process and resources available concerning Identity Theft, yet I am still not so paranoid as to not write checks!

Actually, checks are difficult to steal as the person would have to have an effective check-washing kit (which can still leave obvious traces). I don't know anyone who would risk printing their Social Security number ON their actual checks, since that is rather an obvious way for someone to gain your information.

Our neighborhood has also had a rash of mailbox thefts in the area, so we are all very aware and educated on that possibility and we personally used a locked mailbox for years. Now we drive our mail out and mail it somewhere other than our own mailbox. In fact, we were advised it's even better to walk your mail into a local Post Office to mail it, rather than using street mailboxes to avoid mail theft.

Our Neighborhood Watch email list is an excellent way to keep us all informed as to possible thefts/problems in the area, so we are all very well informed thank you.

I only read this particular blog because it was mentioned in the newspaper, and I was curious as to a witness account as I had almost seen the accident myself and driven by the area directly after. And having dreamt about the accident only 3 hours before it occured was unnerving. I am not a 'blogger' per se and really didn't want to have to register a blog account but oh well.

I also hardly think having an honest and valid opinion about something obvious is 'nasty comments'. I do think some people have difficulty accepting different opinions that may challenge their own. I've seen that all over the Internet-and finally left AOL after 9 years because I was so sick of the constant arguing and hostility/abuse on that ISP.

I stand by my opinions, and consider myself informed and well educated.

7:55 PM

 
Blogger Weniki said...

If your "valid and honest opinion" you are referring to is the anonymous comment left on another post that is PUBLISHED, you are not the nasty commenter I was referring to.

I won't publish nasty comments. These are comments that are downright cruel to me and have nothing to do with what's on the blog. Believe me, they are all over the internet. Anonymous posting allows people to say these sort of things, and by forcing them to be not anonymous, it keeps most of these people from posting here.

Many of my favorite blogs have many levels of comment moderation because no one enjoys reading comments that mean. I know of bloggers who have been left in tears wondering how a stranger could be so cruel.

I'm so glad to hear you are well educated on Identity Theft- but you would be surprised how many people are not. That is why I put up this post, so people could have a chance to become better educated.

When searching for that list from the FTC, I discovered that 20% of people list their SSN or Driver's License number on their checks! 20% is a lot of people. While you may not personally know anyone, 20% of everyone adds up to a lot of victims of identity theft waiting to happen.

9:18 AM

 
Blogger TheCFiles said...

Well I am glad I was not referred to as "nasty comments" about my opinion on check writing, as it's still very prevelant as a normal method of payment.

And I agree-publishing nasty comments or mean attacks would not be productive or pleasant to read.

I am surprised anyone would risk printing their SS# on their checks, but I guess some people are used to how they do things in the past.

I actually used to know a person who printed his email address on his return address labels, and that seemed dangerous to me as it links his Internet identity exactly to where he lives.

Around the year 2000, I had to live through a pretty serious trauma from online death and rape threats which I later found out originated from a guy who lived in Tierra Santa, only about 15 miles from me. He was on AOL and repeatedly threatened me explicitly, even to the point of stalking me online and following me around. I finally got his account terminated by AOL by reporting his threats and several phone calls to AOL, but he got right back online using different billing information apparently and started threatening me again with a different Screen Name.

I had to call the Police twice--and they finally took me seriously the second time to file a police report, which then went to the CATCH (Internet Crime Task Force type agency) in San Diego to be investigated. The Detective there called me, advised me on some things to do to protect myself and took the case from there.

One of the major ways to be safe was changing our complete account and Master Screen Name on AOL at the time. It was a huge hassle, but it solved the problem as the guy on AOL could no longer locate me online or threaten me. We left AOL last August to switch to Cable, but he was still online judging by his profile still on AOL. Unbelievable, as I had reported him with a tremendous amount of information documenting all his threats and the fact that he was back online using another name. (AOL claims they will take legal action in situations like this, but they never did that I am aware of).

The point is--it is extremely important to protect yourself online and off, and I can't imagine printing an email address on a return address label. Just one more thing to be careful of in terms of protecting yourself. I never found out if the individual threatening me actually had my address, (he claimed to have hacked into our account) but what if he had?

Even though it's not likely someone online could see your return address labels unless you mail something specifically to them or someone they know, it's still not a good idea to include your email address or other unnecessary personal information on return address labels.

The Internet is a huge place-and you never know how someone could access your information. I was actually told by police and the Detective that it's fairly easy for someone to gain access to your personal information online so please be careful folks!

I am so thankful to finally be off AOL after 9 years with them, as we are finally completely away from 'that guy' even though he has no idea who I am online anymore. The fact that AOL allowed him to stay online, despite numerous documentations to his serious threats and sneaking back online using a different Screen Name (which was also documented by other people online); just made it that much easier to leave AOL for Cable.

Another good tip-if you happen to be in real world contact with someone from the Internet that you don't know well enough to be absolutely sure they are safe, don't use your complete return address if writing them. Use more general information such as your name and area or city. So many people on the Internet meet people of the opposite sex that they are excited to be in contact with in the real world-but it isn't always safe. So protect yourself by not divulging too much personal information.

Also be careful of giving out phone numbers--there are numerous Reverse Directories online that are easy to gain access to, and people can find your address from your phone number if it is listed. Not everyone is aware of this--so I always recommend not giving out ANY personal information to anyone on the Internet you don't know well enough to be certain of. And sometimes even when you THINK you know someone, you really don't. I think the less personal information you give out-the better. And this goes double for children!

There is an interesting thing you can do online. Try putting your complete phone number, including Area Code into the Google Search Engine and see what comes up. It can actually bring up information about you, including home address if listed or available somehow. This was brought to my attention from Neighborhood Watch and it's a good thing to check for. If personal information does come up under a Google search of your phone number, I believe there is a way of having that information removed from the website although I don't remember exact details as we managed to pass that test thank goodness!

11:42 PM

 

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