Thursday, December 29, 2005

Preventing Identity Theft as Reported by Equifax

Unfortunately, it's not possible to prevent identity theft and credit fraud entirely. However, by managing your personal information carefully, and with a full understanding of its importance, you can substantially reduce the likelihood that it will happen to you. The following tips show you how.

How to Outsmart Identity Thieves:
  • Be careful about giving out personal information. Whether on the phone, by mail, or on the Internet, never give anyone your card number, Social Security number, or other personal information for a purpose you don't understand. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible, and don't carry your SSN card. Be sure to keep it in a secure place.

  • Protect your mail. To stop a thief from obtaining personal information about you by going through your through trash or recycling bin, tear or shred your charge receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements, expired charge cards, and preapproved credit offers. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it's delivered. If you plan to go away, call the U.S. Postal Service at 800-275-8777 and request a vacation hold.
  • Guard your credit cards. Minimize the information and the number of cards you carry in your wallet. If you lose a card, contact the fraud division of the credit card company. If you apply for a new credit card and it doesn't arrive in a reasonable period, contact the issuer. Watch cashiers when you give them your card for a purchase. Also, when you receive a new card, sign it in permanent ink and activate it immediately.

  • Pay attention to billing cycles. Contact creditors immediately if your bills arrive late. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address.

  • Safeguard personal information in your home. Especially if you are having service work done in your home, employ outside help, or have a roommate.

  • Find out who has access to your information at work. Be sure to verify that records are kept in a secure location, and are accessible only to employees who have a legitimate reason to access it.

  • Be smart about passwords and PINs. Memorize your passwords and personal identification numbers instead of carrying them with you. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

  • Fraud Alerts. You may place an Initial 90 day Fraud Alert by calling any one of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies. The agency that accepts your request will share your request with the other two credit reporting companies, which will add the alert to your file or request that you provide them additional information. You will receive a confirmation when an alert is added to your file.
  • Active Duty Alert. You may request an active duty alert, which will remain on your file for 12 months, by calling any one of the nationwide credit reporting companies. This alert removes your name from pre-screened offers of credit for 2 years. You will receive a confirmation when an alert is added to your credit file.
  • Sharing of Alerts. The nationwide credit reporting company that accepts your request for a Fraud or Active Duty alert will share your request with the other two nationwide credit reporting companies, which will add the alert to your file or request that you provide them additional information.
Other Important Facts:
  • Zero responsibility doesn't mean zero problems. Because credit card companies must limit consumer responsibility to $50 in most cases of fraud, and because many new cards include "zero responsibility" protection, some people think there's no reason to worry about credit fraud. But in its most advanced form -- identity theft -- credit fraud can cause wide-ranging long-term problems. Identity thieves can use your personal information to take over your credit accounts and open new ones. They may even use your good credit to get a job, take out a car loan, or rent an apartment.

  • Check your credit report regularly. Checking your credit report can help you catch mistakes and fraud before they wreak havoc on your personal finances. Make sure your report is accurate and includes only those activities you've authorized. It's also a good idea to review your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year -- it's possible that information is reported to one but not the others.

  • Get the 3-in-1 Credit Report and see your credit history as reported by the three major credit reporting agencies. You can also subscribe to Equifax Credit Watch for eBay™ credit report monitoring service, and get an early alert to new and suspicious activity on your report.
Did You Know? Although the problem is nationwide, states with the highest incidence of identity theft are California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Illinois, and Washington.

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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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