Thursday, November 10, 2005

What Is Identity Theft and What Does It Include?

Identity Theft occurs when a criminal uses another person's personal information to take on that person's identity. Identity theft includes the misuse of a Social Security number, credit cards, mail fraud, or any other form of misuse or abuse of a victim’s identity.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, known commonly as FACTA, was put into law in the United States to help to protect consumers from identity theft and to help in its prevention. FACTA ensures that all citizens are treated fairly when they apply for a mortgage or other form of credit and it entitles them to a free annual credit report to verify its accuracy.

What Can You Do to Prevent Identity Theft?

There is no guarantee that you will never be a victim; however, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk. Here is a list of things you can do:

  • Manage your personal information cautiously and with a new awareness that identity theft can occur anytime anywhere and when you least expect it.

  • Ask about security procedures in your workplace, doctor's office, or other business or organization that routinely collects relevant and personal identifying information as part of doing business or providing a service. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Inquire about their disposal procedures and if your information will be shared with anyone else (namely third parties such as mailing list companies, marketing and survey companies, etc.).

  • Instead of giving your Social Security Number, inquire if you can use other types of identification. Use your Social Security Number with caution and only when absolutely necessary.

  • Carry only the identification and the number of credit and debit cards that you will actually use. Leave extra cards in a safe place at home, in a safety deposit box, or any other secured location.

  • Avoid giving out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the internet unless you are absolutely sure you know and can trust with whom you are communicating.

  • Identity thieves usually pose as representatives of banks, lotteries, sweepstakes, internet service providers, or some other officially-sounding-entity. They will use any means possible to try to get you to reveal your valuable information.

    Caution: Before you share personal information, be sure you are dealing with a legitimate business or organization. (If you are unsure about an online communication, check the organization’s website by typing its URL in the address line. Most large companies post alerts on their sites when they are aware of a scam when their name is used improperly.)

  • Call the Customer Service Department of companies or organizations with whom you do business using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book.

  • Do not place passwords on your credit card, bank, or telephone accounts.

  • When choosing a password, avoid using obvious information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, a series of consecutive numbers, or the last four digits of your Social Security Number or your phone number.

  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has gotten their hands on it.

  • Be wary of promotional scams or phony offers to get you to give them your personal information such as lottery and sweepsatkes that you have never entered and ones asking for an "administration" fee.

  • If your job requires you to suit up in special clothing at work, always keep your purse or wallet in a safe and secured place.

  • When reordering checks, pick them up at the bank instead of having them sent to your mailbox.

  • Obtain a current credit report by contacting any of these major credit bureaus:

      Equifax: P.O. Box 740241 Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
      For Fraud Alerts, call: 800-525-6285

      Experian: P.O. Box 2002 Allen TX 75013
      For Fraud Alerts, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)

      Trans Union: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022
      For Fraud Alerts, call: 800-680-7289

If you have been victimized, what can you do?

In the unfortunate event you do become a victim of identity theft, immediately:

  • Contact the fraud departments of one of the major credit bureaus listed to place a fraud alert on your credit file. The fraud alert requires creditors to contact you before opening any accounts or making any changes to your accounts. When the credit bureau you contact confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts. All three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge.

  • Close any accounts that you know or even think have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

  • File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.

  • File your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint helps the FTC learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having. This knowledge helps them to assist you better.

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Behavior Management Expert and Maximizing Your Potential Mentor™ Etienne A. Gibbs is a life-observing author, engaging talk show host, humorous speaker, and successful trainer who teaches small business owners, managers, and employees how to speak, think, and perform in ways that will help them shine. In the end, they maximize their critical thinking, speaking, and management skills.

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