Identity thieves lurk on the Internet, in stores and banks and on the telephone. They covet your private information, such as name, address and phone number, Social Security number and credit card and bank account numbers. Armed with your personal information, they commit fraud or theft in your name, leaving you with a potentially sullied credit history and depleted bank account. Here are some tips for minimizing your vulnerability to identity stalkers:
• Before offering any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared. Ask if you can choose to keep it confidential or if you have the choice about how it will be used.
• Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean someone has taken over your account and changed your address to cover the tracks.
• Put passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Choose passwords that are not easily guessed. Avoid using your mother’s maiden name, your birthday or other predictable information. Avoid using a series of consecutive numbers.
• Use your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other methods of identity when possible.
• Order a credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. Review it for accuracy and follow up on any suspicious or inaccurate activity.
Even if you have taken precautions to protect yourself, you can still fall victim to identity theft. If you do, here are some steps you should take:
1. Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus
2. Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been abused
3. File a police report
4. Keep a record of your conversations and correspondences.
Source: Pennsylvania School Bus Report, February 2002
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