NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2008
Protect Yourself against Identity Theft
By Marjie Tucker, Editor, Mountain Computer User Group

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

We've had several programs and articles that mentioned Identity Theft, but I thought it might help us all to have one document with a checklist of symptoms and solutions for this horrific problem. Make certain that you're not a victim.

What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is an act of impersonation. Someone gains the ability to use your personally identifying information to commit fraud or some other crime. The item stolen may be as simple as your name, address, phone number, or date of birth. Or, it can be an actual number or document such as your social security number, mother's maiden name, bank account information, credit card number, driver's license number, signature or passwords. The thieves may rent an apartment, open a new credit card, or open a cell phone account in your name. You may not even know about the theft until you review your credit report or are contacted by a debt collector. Some victims spend hundreds of dollars and many, many hours repairing damage to their good names and credit records. People have been denied mortgages and car loans, lost out on job opportunities, and even been arrested for crimes they didn't commit because of identity theft.

How Do Thieves Steal an Identity?
Basically identity thieves are looking for an opportunity to steal your social security number, credit card number, or other financial account information. They may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information including the following: 1. Dumpster Diving - They actually go through trash bins and dumpsters looking for discarded credit card bills, bank statements, and items containing your social security number. Your best defense is to shred any trash that contains sensitive information.
2. Skimming - Store clerks and restaurant workers can use a special device that records your credit card number while it is being processed. Always peruse your credit card bills carefully to look for unauthorized charges. If any are found, notify your credit card company immediately.
3. Phishing - These attacks are sent to you as email messages, supposedly from your bank, the IRS, PayPal, or another company that might have your information on file. They usually send you to a web page that looks legitimate, but actually sends your username and password to a server owned by the thieves. Never respond to a website that has been emailed to you. If you think the email is legitimate, go directly to the company's website before you login.
4. Changing your Address - Identity thieves can obtain your credit card and bank information by completing a change of address form at the post office. This way they are personally delivered your bank and credit card statements. If you stop receiving your mail go to the post office and make an inquiry.

How Can You Protect Yourself?
1. Always carefully review your credit card and bank statements for discrepancies. Immediate report any suspicious activity.
2. Order reports from the credit reporting bureaus at least once a year. Review them carefully for any entries that are not legitimate.
3. Shred credit card statements, bank statements, credit card offers, and any other papers that contain your personal information.
4. Never throw away credit card receipts in a public place. Watch out for credit card receipts that may print out (particularly at gas stations) and be left for someone else to pick up.
5. Do not respond to credit card or mortgage offers from unknown sources.
6. Do not respond to emails asking you to go to a website address that is embedded into the email. Do not give your personal information over the phone unless you initiated the phone call.
7. Do not carry your social security card with you.
8. Do not post your personal information on a website.
9. Change your passwords frequently and use a secure password.

What Should You Do If Your Identity is Stolen?
First file an Identity Theft police report. This will give you specific legal rights and automatic notification to the three major credit reporting agencies. These legal rights permanently block fraudulent information from being added to your credit report and prevent companies from collecting debts that resulted from identity theft.

You should also file a report to the FTC ID Theft Division. You can find an online form at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft To ensure that the problem has been solved you should monitor your financial records for at least three months after you discover the crime and order credit reports on a quarterly basis for at least one year. The best way to fight ID Theft is to remain alert. Monitor your personal information and alert your family members of the importance of security.

This article has been provided to APCUG by the author solely for publication by APCUG member groups. All other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

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