'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
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
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
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,
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
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
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,
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
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.
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