Preventing Identity Theft
It's a common assumption that most identity thefts occur as a result of Internet usage. But online problems typically result from the user’s carelessness — responding to an email message asking for financial information or clicking on links in an email message. A far greater percentage of identity thefts occur as a result of a lost wallet or stolen mail. Armed with your name, Social Security number, and birthdate, thieves can obtain credit cards, get loans, purchase a car, or apply for a job in your name. This information can be obtained from a variety of places. Many people get checks printed with their Social Security number, driver’s license number, and birthdate. Mail theft frequently results in something with a Social Security number. Calls to credit bureaus, posing as prospective landlords, employers, or lenders, often yield information. Computer-literate thieves can find many ways to garner information over the Internet. While you typically aren’t responsible for anything charged by an identity thief, you will have to work to restore your credit and close all fraudulent accounts. That can be time-consuming and expensive. If you are a victim of identity theft, inform the three major credit bureaus so a fraud alert can be placed on your account. That way, no new credit will be issued without first contacting you. Also file a police report in case a creditor wants proof of the crime. Make sure to report the theft on the Federal Trade Commission’s website at ftc.gov/idtheft, which advises many companies and organizations about the theft, and includes pertinent forms. To help prevent your identity from being stolen, follow these tips:
Protect your Social Security number. This is the primary piece of information needed to steal your identity, so only give it out in situations where it is absolutely required, such as on tax forms, employment records, and for banking, stock, and property transactions. Request a personal identification number for phone access to financial information. Don’t print your Social Security number on your checks.
Only carry essential items in your wallet or purse. Don’t keep anything showing your Social Security number in your wallet. Memorize your Social Security number, so you don’t have to carry your card. Don’t keep any passwords in your wallet. Thieves can obtain a great deal of information from checks, so consider not carrying them with you.
Check your credit report annually. All consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year, which can be requested at annualcreditreport.com. Review your credit reports carefully for errors at least annually. It is not uncommon to find information on people with similar names or other family members in a credit file. Make sure you are aware of all accounts listed and that balances are for expected amounts. Check for unfamiliar addresses and inquiries about loans you never applied for. If you find errors, report them immediately in writing. The credit bureau must then investigate the items and resolve those that can’t be verified.
Shred financial information when discarding. When discarding old tax returns, bank statements, brokerage statements, canceled checks, charge card statements, or any information with account numbers or identifying information, shred the information first. You may also want to shred credit card solicitations so someone doesn’t use it without your knowledge.
Remove yourself from mailing lists. Preapproved credit card offers are an easy way for thieves to get credit cards quickly. Credit bureaus often sell lists to companies making these offers. Call the credit agencies and request the removal of your name from these lists.
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This newsletter was prepared by Integrated Concepts Group, Inc. The opinions expressed in this newsletter are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual. It is suggested that you consult your financial professional, attorney, or tax advisor with regard to your individual situation. The views expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those held by PlanMember Securities Corporation. Material presented is believed to be from a reliable sources and PSEC makes no representation as to it accuracy or completeness.