Protections From Identity Theft

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We’ve shared our excitement this holiday season with our friends and co-workers about the deals we’ve found on shoes, clothes and electronics like flat screen TVs, GPSs, DVDs and video games.

But, there’s one thing that we didn’t anticipate: As we spend money using our debit and credit cards, there are thieves who are rubbing their palms together, waiting to prey on our bank and credit card accounts.

As the amount of money we spend and the number of transactions we make increase at this time of year, so does the window of opportunity for would-be identify thieves.

During the busy holiday season, identity thieves have an easier time making fraudulent transactions and hiding them among our legitimate transactions, which may go unnoticed until much later. “The 2009 Identity Fraud Survey Report by Javelin Strategy and Research reveals that Hispanics and African Americans are defrauded at the highest rates.

While no amount of caution can be totally foolproof, being aware of the potential for identity theft and the methods of protecting yourself — should you fall victim — provides an added defense,” offers Dwight Raiford, financial services representative with MetLife. There are six simple actions consumers can take to protect their identity and credit:

Order checks using only first and middle initials and full last name. Who’s going to guess that “B” stands for “Betty” or “Bernard” when attempting to forge a signature? Place a work number instead of home phone number on checks, use a P.O. Box instead of home address, and never publish a Social Security number on checks.

Photocopy both sides of every piece of identification, and keep the copies in a safe and handy place. This way, if a wallet is stolen, all of the necessary information — auto license and registration, credit card account numbers, and customer service hotlines — will be available in one location.

Shred or otherwise destroy all papers containing financial information or identifiers, and do not simply throw them in the trash. Be especially careful disposing of unsolicited mail such as credit card offers.

Be wary of unsolicited e-mails seeking personal information, and don’t share personal information by phone or e-mail unless the contact is self-initiated. Even if it looks official, contact the institution requesting the information by phone or in person (not by replying to the e-mail) to confirm its legitimacy.

File a police report if credit cards are stolen — it will provide proof of diligence to credit card issuers. Also, call all national credit reporting organizations expeditiously to place a fraud alert on your account.

The alert lets companies that check your credit know that your information was stolen and that you should be contacted by phone to authorize any new credit.
Their numbers are: Equifax, (800) 685-1111, Experian, (888) 397-3742, and Trans Union, (800) 888-4213.

In the event that your Social Security card or number is stolen, notify the Social Security Administration at (800) 269-0271.


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