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Kids and money

Take proper steps to prevent identity from being stolen

Ed blitz

April 20, 2002

'Identity theft happens when an opportunity arises, and thieves are not very particular to one's age if there is a credit/debit card number to be had," said Paul S. Richard of the Institute of Consumer Financial Education.

Identity theft includes but is not limited to Social Security number, driver's license, bank accounts, PIN numbers and credit/debit card numbers, Richard said. The theft "is one of the fastest-growing crimes against consumers, both young and old," said Richard, executive director of the nonprofit, San Diego-based group.

If your wallet has been lost or stolen, within hours thieves often order expensive cell-phone service, apply for other credit cards, get credit lines approved, receive a PIN number from the DMV to change your driving record information online and more, unless you make a few important calls that will limit the damage.

First, call the three major credit reporting agencies Equifax: (800) 525-6285, Experian: (888) 397-3742 and Trans Union: (800) 680-7289 and ask them to immediately place a Fraud Alert on your name and Social Security number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

Next, notify the Social Security national fraud hotline at (800) 269-0271. Then, cancel your credit cards immediately. Be sure to keep the toll-free numbers and your card numbers handy. If you have not made a list, a simple way is to photocopy the contents of your wallet (do both sides of each license, credit card, etc.), then add their toll-free phone numbers to the list.

Last, file a police report the same day, if at all possible, in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, because this proves to credit providers you are diligent and is an important first step toward an investigation.

In addition to safeguarding your wallet, you need to play it safe on the Internet. There are plenty of common-sense rules and take-charge tips for safeguarding your privacy online.

Bulletin boards/chat rooms Be aware that when you provide your name and/or messages to others online through a bulletin board or chat group, they'll probably be able to find out how to communicate with you whether you want them to or not. When participating in online chats or bulletin boards, consider using a screen name that doesn't directly identify or reveal information about you (gender, location, etc.).

Children It is now the law for Web sites to put added protections in place to protect the privacy of children younger than 13. Web sites must get verifiable parental consent before engaging in ongoing communications with a child. Children should not give out their names or other personal information online without parental permission just as they should not talk to strangers! And get your parents' permission before responding to online surveys or to games, clubs, or prizes that require personal information for eligibility.

If a Web site tries to get your child's personal information without your OK, you should report that site to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).

Credit cards Don't send your credit card number or other sensitive, personal data by e-mail unless you're assured that the data is encrypted with the latest software technology. Encryption technology scrambles the information you send online. If in doubt, request an alternate payment method for your online transaction. Don't believe Web sites that tell you that your credit-card number, or other personally sensitive data, doesn't have to be encrypted.

Guard the home Avoid, if possible, giving out any information that can be linked to your home address. Avoid putting your address and driver's license number on personal checks, if possible.

Keep your mother's maiden name private, as it's often used by companies to verify your identity.

Shred financial, medical and other personal private documents before discarding them. Be especially cautious about giving out your Social Security number. Employers, banks and other businesses that are required to report your income to the IRS have legitimate need for your Social Security number, but very few other businesses do.

Passwords Don't create a password that's similar to your real name, commonly used nickname, or online screen name. Also, never use your Social Security number as your password. Guard your online password vigilantly. Never offer it to anyone who asks for it, even to someone who says they're calling on behalf of your Internet service provider. Don't store your password near your computer or in your desk.

For more information about protecting yourself against identity theft, visit the U.S. Government's Web site on ID fraud: www.consumer.gov/idtheft/ and the National Fraud Information Center at www.fraud.org/.

Ed Blitz is a certified public accountant in San Diego and author of "The 10% Solution." Send letters to him in care of Kids&Money/Family, The San Diego Union-Tribune, P.O. Box 120191, San Diego, CA 92112-0191. Send e-mail to: family@uniontrib.com

FACTOID

In England, money is based on pounds instead of dollars. The term "pound" came from the weight of one pound of gold.

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.












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