Identity Theft Protection

Protect yourself from identity theft.
Protect yourself from identity theft.

Most people think they only need identity theft protection from people trying to obtaining credit card information, but scam artists intent on stealing identities for financial gain prey on other areas of our lives, too.

Identities Can Be Snagged in Many Ways

By the end of 2006, most business that handle credit card transactions will be required to only use the last four digits of the credit card number on a receipt. You may have noticed many retailers doing this already. This will certainly help protect against credit card fraud. However, in the course of busy day-to-day living, there are other things we easily overlook that thieves pounce on:

  • Mail-in or online ordering that requires personal information such as a Social Security number, bank account numbers and/or passwords.
  • Mining of someone's Social Security number on applications for consumer items such as video rental, car rental and other non-official documentation.
  • Employee fraudulence when handling job applications, tax documents and other personal information.
  • At-home mail or documentation theft.
  • Garbage theft, a term known as "dumpster diving," from homes or businesses.

Identity Theft Protection: What You Can Do

In only an afternoon, you can review your financial and personal information to check for weak links and correct them. Afterwards, establish a periodic review system so you can catch problems before someone else does.

Everyday Practical Steps

  1. Always review bills and receipts and file accordingly.
  2. Invest $20 in a shredder. Some are stand-alone while others fit over a simple garbage can. Shred important documents that don't need to be filed or stored for a certain period of time.
  3. Don't just throw away credit card offers or other applications. Con artists can use information from the mailer to fill it out on "your" behalf. Shred those, too.
  4. You don't have to use your Social Security number as the only identifier. For a driver's license or health insurance card, both documents that you usually carry with you, request another number be used instead.
  5. And of course, don't carry your Social Security number around - keep it in a safe place.
  6. Ask to pick up new checks at the bank rather than mailing.
  7. Never divulge particular information to just anyone. Even though using a mother's maiden name is a common verifier practice, think of a password and use that instead.
  8. Don't respond to an unsolicited phone call or e-mail with personal information. This practice, known as "phishing," snares more of us than we'd care to admit. Directly call or go online to the company in question and state you received a communication. If legitimate, they should have all your account information on file and be able to read it back to you. If not, report the fraud.
  9. Regarding computers:
  • Use firewall protection and a secure browser.
  • Update virus protection at least monthly.
  • Make passwords complex, with a combination of numbers and letters, and try to avoid automatic logins.

And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Mom and Dad were right; money doesn't grow on trees, and it certainly doesn't come from princes in Nambia for no reason.

Going Above and Beyond

If you're a business owner or an individual who handles the finances of others, look into the identity theft protection plans offered by many credit card services and insurance companies. Depending on the provider, this service averages $9 to $15 a month, with amenities such as quarterly credit reports for better transaction and payment monitoring, immediate notification of anomalies with your accounts and other functions.

What to Do if the Collection Agency Calls

In September 2006, the IRS issued a warning to taxpayers to beware of scam artists posing as collectors hired by the agency.

While it's true that the IRS has contracted with collection agencies to settle debt, taxpayers in question will receive a letter from the IRS regarding the process, advisement of rights and the name of the collection agency handling the claim. The collection agency will then send a letter, notifying of future contact. Each letter will clarify the amount owed to the IRS. An e-mail with an IRS logo is probably fraudulent.

Taxpayers should address all payments to the U.S. Treasury and send them directly to an IRS office.

If a consumer receives a collection call on another debt, such as a credit card or automobile loan, they should call the creditor for verification that the account has been passed to collections before agreeing to talk with any debt settlement agency.

External Resources

To find more information on identity theft protection methods, visit these sites.

  • The trusty Federal Trade Commission is a storehouse of facts and resources on a plethora of consumer issues. The site also provides a detailed list of who to contact if you've been a victim of identity theft.
  • The National Consumers League started as an advocacy group for fair working conditions more than 100 years ago. The organization provides information on fraud, privacy and financial concerns, as well as industry-specific circumstances. It's the parent organization of the National Fraud Information Center, a site that offers advice, trends and general information.
  • Discover Card Services has a comprehensive identity theft protection site with links to other agencies that handle personal information, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. The site advises that consumers check with government agencies like these to understand how much and what type of data these agencies have on file. The more you know, the more you can protect yourself.
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Identity Theft Protection