A Few Words About Identity Theft and Some Resources

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I’ve very briefly discussed identity theft way back when I started this blog. I mentioned about using shredders for destroying documents. I also shared how I had an identity theft scare (turned out to be nothing). In all, I haven’t discussed it much. Then, I received this email a few days ago from a reader who wished to stay anonymous:

Hi, I enjoy your website as we are also trying to pay off credit card debt. I wish you would focus some on identity theft. It just happened to me. Someone stole my social security # and was able to obtain a personal loan for 12,000. Everywhere I went, banks, police, etc., either someone had it happen to them or someone they know. This problem is so much bigger than we can imagine. I am just an average working girl with average credit and alot of debt. I used to joke and say if someone wanted to steal my identity they could have it, with all the bills. Now i’m eating those words. I now have a long process ahead of me to clear my name, not to mention my new paranoia. Anyhow, I hope you can use my story as a example for people to be aware it could happen to them.

Reading that email gave me chills. Even I have joked about someone stealing my identity with all of my debt. I guess no one is really exempt from it anymore and it’s not only adults.

A recent Good Housekeeping article details how a little girl who was only 5 years old had at least 10 people (or someone with 10 different aliases) using her social security number to get employment. It started as early as the year she was born. Her parents were tipped off that something was wrong when they tried to sign their daughter up for a state-run insurance program. The officials for the program wouldn’t let her daughter on the program because she has earned income.

In the case of the little girl, someone happened to produce a social security number that matched hers. There were no documents left out and no wallets lost. It was just by chance. That in itself is a little scary.

I dug a little and have found a few tips to help provide some protection against identity theft (check the articles I reference for even more information):

Shred all documents with personal information – this includes credit card applications that you may receive in the mail (don’t just tear them up). Some theives will raid your trash to find information that can be used for identity theft.

Stop credit card applications from arriving in your mailbox – if you have an unlocked mailbox, you may want to consider calling 888-567-8688 to stop credit card offers from being mailed to you. Theives can raid your mailbox and use these applications to open credit cards in your name [via Good Housekeeping].

Contact your credit card companies and ask that they stop sending “Convenience Checks” – I know a lot of companies send these out. Some as often as once a month. Call them and tell them to stop. Having them around is asking for trouble. If you have a pile of them sitting around, shred them. [via Dateline NBC]

Hang up on telemarketers that seem to be trying to get personal info [via Dateline NBC] – I have a hard-fast rule that I adhere to when it comes to telemarketers. I tell them, “I’m sorry…I do not conduct any business from unsolicited calls.” That includes surveys, organizations requesting donations, etc. If I am not calling them, I don’t do anything. Period.

Be diligent about checking your statements – don’t let your statements sit in a bin to be opened months later. Make sure you are checking them for fraudulent activity [via About.com].

Order your credit report at least once a year – there are credit monitoring services out there (My Fico, Identity Guard, etc) that will let you know within 24 hours of an account opening. I do subscribe to one of those services because of my online presense. You can save that cost by taking advantage of the Federal law that gives you the right to one free credit report each year from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To get that free credit report, go to Annualcreditreport.com. You could stagger your reports from each of the three bureaus to have one every four months like so

  • July 07 – Experian
  • November 07 – TransUnion
  • March 08 – Equifax
  • July 08- Repeat cycle with Experian

The sad thing is…a lot of the time you cannot prevent an ID theft from occuring [via Dateline NBC]. You can definitely make it more difficult if you follow the steps above. The key is to be vigilant and watchful so if you find something suspicious going on you can stop it.

More resources:

FTC’s Website
PrivacyRights.org (probably the most comprehensive list I’ve found)


12 Comments

  • Reply Lynnae |

    That’s some really great advice. I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of letting statements sit around for months in the past.

    Another idea is to get a post office box if you don’t have a locking mailbox.

  • Reply Matt |

    Identity theft is a fact of life in our digital world; great suggestions about keeping it limited and not impacting your life. I’ve been thinking about investing in a shredder lately and the more I read the more convinced I am it’d be a wise investment.

    Thankfully I haven’t had it happen to me yet, but it’s happened to my wife. Thankfully we check our statements and credit card companies are good about refunding money others spent on your card.

  • Reply Colleen |

    Tricia, I am so glad that you wrote about identify theft. I learned from Clark Howard’s website a couple months ago that certain states allow consumers to “freeze” their credit report. No one can access your record once a freeze has been placed. This is not for someone who is making a purchase anytime soon, such as a car or home, but it is for someone like me who has all the credit cards she needs and will not be making any major purchases in the near future. You can unfreeze your report for a small fee when the time does come to make a purchase.

    When I read about this a couple months ago, I was angry to find out that my state did not have this option. The ability to access someone’s credit scores without their knowledge benefits only the solicitors. Thankfully, beginning January 1, 2008 my state has enacted this into law, and I intend to “freeze” all of our social security numbers. Having our identify stolen is definitely a scary possibility for all of us. Good article!

  • Reply danielle |

    I heard of children whose parents stole their identities. One mom being interviewed just used the excuse of being a single parent. It was really sad.

  • Reply Starving Artist |

    I just posted about a credit card number getting stolen. I’ve always been careless about my garbage–I don’t shred my credit card mail, I usually just throw something really gross on top of it, like spaghetti. I think it’s time to start following some of the more conventional advice! Thanks for the post.

  • Reply louise |

    It is actually very very easy to steal someones identity, all you need is a few very basic details about someone. If you think of the information need to apply for a credit card online thats all you need to do it. I know someone this happened to and I have written an article about how easy it was. This lady lost everything.

  • Reply Kristina |

    I highly suggest people not pay money for credit monitoring services. As the name suggests, all they are doing is monitoring your credit. You can do that for free 3 times a year through the federal government program that Tricia described. 3 times a year is sufficient, especially since you are not liable for fraudulent purchases made in your name even if you discover the fraud several months after the fact.

    If you do want to spend money to protect your identity, I suggest spending on one of the few ID theft insurance programs out there that monitor your credit AND restore your identity for you. Restoring your identity/credit is the part that takes effort and time that you might not want to spend. It can take dozens or hundreds of hours to untangle the mess of identity theft and to set all of the records straight.

    I have not chosen to buy this insurance. If my identity were stolen, it would be nice to have another professional take care of all the mess for me. However, at this point I’d rather spend the money elsewhere and take the risk of having to clean up the mess myself should something happen. knock on wood…

  • Reply Brenna |

    I have been a victim of identity theft with one of my credit cards. I noticed unauthorized charges on my account the same day I used that particular card. I didn’t use this card for awhile and went to two places and used it. Two days later, when I downloaded my transactions on Quicken, I had 3 charges that I didn’t do. Long story short, just be careful in general and disputed charges with the credit card company.

  • Reply Ron |

    Very good and necessary article on identity theft. My wife and I were victims several years ago by a family member. We now shred everything that might remotely be used by someone.

    We’ve also placed a fraud alert with the credit reporting agencies so that we are notified if there is any suspicious activity.

    Finally, I agree with Kristina above. There is absolutely no need to spend money to monitor your credit report. It is however absolutely vital that you take the time to request your report and go through it thoroughly! This is not only to protect yourself against fraud, but just to make sure that nothing is being reported incorrectly.

  • Reply LJAMES |

    Keep in mind that every time you request a credit report it also dinks your credit score. The credit bureaus think that if you are having credit report request too frequently then you are requesting credit. So, to make a long story short don’t request credit reports too often. Once to twice a year at the most. Just thought I would make this side note since I work for a financial institution.

So, what do you think ?

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