Identity theft: Reducing the risk of fraud |

Identity theft: Reducing the risk of fraud

Dan Godec

You’ve heard about it in the news and it may even have happened to someone you know. The FBI calls identity theft one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and estimates that between 500,000 to 700,000 Americans become identity theft victims each year.Identity theft is a federal crime. It occurs when one person’s identification – which can include their name, social security number, or any account number – is used or transferred by another person for unlawful activities.The consequences of identity theft can be staggering. Victims spend extensive time closing bad accounts, opening new ones and fixing credit records. There can be huge out-of-pocket expenses related to clearing your name. You could be denied loans and jobs – and, though unlikely, you could even be mistakenly arrested as a result of crimes committed in your name.Take these steps to protect yourself:1. Check your credit reportGet a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year. It lists all forms of credit in your name. Check to be sure that everything is accurate, that all of the accounts are yours and that accounts you have requested to be closed are marked closed. Bureau reports cost approximately $8. But, if you have been turned down for credit, you are eligible for a free report. To order credit bureau reports, call: TransUnion Credit Services 800-888-4213 Equifax Credit Services 800-685-1111Experian Credit Services 888-397-37422. Monitor account activityKeep an eye on your accounts throughout the year by reading your monthly/periodic statements completely. That’s an easy way for you to be sure all of the activity in your accounts was initiated by you. 3. Shred it!Tear up or shred pre-approved credit offers, receipts and other personal information that link your name to account numbers. Don’t leave your ATM or credit card receipt in public trash cans. Crooks – also known as Dumpster divers – are known to go through trash to get account numbers and other items that will give them just enough information to get credit in your name. 4. Pay attention to billing cyclesIf your credit card or other bills are more than two weeks late, you should do three things: First, contact the Postal Service to see if someone has forwarded your mail to another address. Second, contact your bank to ask if the statement or card has been mailed. Third, contact the businesses that send you bills.5. Protect your account informationWhen you pay bills, don’t put them in your mailbox with the red flag up. That’s a flashing neon light telling crooks to grab your information. Use a locked mailbox or the post office.Don’t write your personal identification number (PIN) on your ATM or debit card. Don’t write your social security number or credit card account number on a check. Cover your hand when you are entering your PIN number at an ATM.6. Keep important ID documents in a safe placeDon’t carry your Social Security card, passport or birth certificate unless you need it that day. Take all but one or two credit cards out of your wallet, and keep a list at home of your account information and customer service telephone numbers. That way, if your wallet is lost or stolen, you’ll only have to notify a few of your creditors and the information will be handy.7. Never provide personal or credit card information over the phone …Unless you initiated the call. Crooks are known to call with news that you’ve won a prize and all they need is your credit card number for verification. Don’t fall for it. Remember the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”8. Take action if you are a victimFinancial fraud is a crime – call your local police department. Contact the fraud units of all three credit bureaus. Ask them to “flag” your account, which tells creditors that you are a victim of identity fraud. Also, add a victim’s statement to each of your credit bureau reports that asks creditors to contact you in person to verify all applications made in your name. Call the fraud units of the credit bureaus at:TransUnion Fraud Assistance Department 800-680-7289 Equifax Fraud Assistance Department 800-525-6285Experian Fraud Assistance Department 888-397-3742• Call the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft hotline at 1 (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338). The hotline is staffed by counselors trained to help ID theft victims. Check out the agency’s Web Site, which includes an identity theft affidavit to help simplify the process of clearing up accounts opened by an identity thief. • Notify your banks. They can help you obtain new account numbers for all of your checking, savings and other accounts. Be sure to pick a new PIN number for your ATM and debit cards – and don’t use your birth date or name for PINs. Close all of your credit card accounts and open with new account numbers. • Notify the Postal Inspector if you suspect mail theft – a felony.• Depending on your situation, you may want to contact the Social Security Administration to get a new Social Security number. Their telephone number is 800-772-1213. You also may want to contact your telephone, long distance, water, gas and electrical companies to alert them that someone may try to open an account in your name.• Finally, make sure to maintain a log of all the contacts you make with authorities regarding the matter. Write down each person’s name, title and phone number in case you need to re-contact them or refer to them in future correspondence.Think about taking care of your identity on a regular basis just like you take care of your health. Dan Godec is the president and CEO of WestStar Bank. For additional information, contact Dan’s assistant Kristin at 949-5995 X2816.Vail, Colorado

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