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Identity Theft

Identity theft is a fast growing crime in the US and the internet has given identity thieves a way to find victims.

Cyber thieves steal sensitive information from unsuspecting people. "Phishing" is where Web Crooks will send out mass emails that look as if they came from a company that you deal with. Company names like eBay, Best Buy, and Paypal have been used as lures to customers. The thieves send out the email and it looks like it is from the company. The email asks you to supply information like credit card numbers, account numbers, passwords, social security numbers, date of birth and other important information. Often these emails tell you that if you do not update the information, your account will be closed or that they suspect someone is using your account.

How to Protect yourself from Identity Theft

Who are you talking to?

Never give personal information to someone who contacts you, whether it is over the internet, telephone or someone standing at your front door. Legitimate companies will not contact you for personal information such as bank account numbers, credit card information or social security numbers. If you initiate the call to a company at a number that you know is valid, it should be safe to give information that may be needed from that vendor if they request it.

Can I have your Social Security Number?

Stealing your identity is easy. All a thief needs is your social security number and date of birth. That will allow them to get enough information to make a new identity in your name. Be especially careful about who you give your social security number to. Certain organizations are required to ask so that they can report wages or interest to the government.

Always shred or burn documents that have information such as account numbers, date of birth or a social security number on them. Junk mail like pre-approved credit card applications should also be shredded. These are most often sent to a PO Box, and are easy targets for a theft to get out of the garbage. Do not leave mail in your mailbox over night if your going to be away, have a trusted neighbor pick it up for you.

Be cautious with debit cards. Debit cards look like credit cards and usually contain the credit providers’ logo such as Master Card or Visa. When a charge is made against a debit card, the money is taken directly out of your bank account. Someone could drain your bank account of every last dime if they fraudulently use your debit card. Credit cards may be a better way to go, fraudulent credit card charges will be seen on your statement and you have the opportunity to dispute them. There is a $50 maximum that you are responsible for if your card is lost or stolen and used fraudulently. This is often waived if you provide immediate notice to the card provider. If your bank sends you a debit card, you may want to ask them for a standard ATM card instead, since an ATM card cannot be used if it is lost or stolen (unless the crook has your PIN).

While ATM cards are more secure than debit cards, you still need to be careful where you use them. Crooks are now buying ATM machines and temporarily installing them in places like gas stations, convenience stores, etc. When you insert your card and type your PIN, it is programmed to record your account number and PIN. You may get a message that the machine is temporarily out of service, but the thief can burn a blank card with your information. Most ATMs are safe, but it is best to stick with well-known locations like banks or major grocery store chains.

Never give out your checking account and routing number to anyone over the phone or internet unless you are sure they are legitimate. There are various types of "scam spam" emails requesting your information. For example, one might say that you have won a huge foreign lottery and you must confirm your bank account information to claim your money. If you do, your account will be drained of all funds. Usually these crooks are based overseas, and there is nothing you can do to get your money back.

Make sure you check your credit card statement as soon as you get it. Dispute any bogus charges in writing within 60 days of the charge to be fully protected by credit laws.

If you suspect you are the victim of fraud or identity theft, it may be a good idea to get copies of your credit reports from one of these three major reporting companies.

Equifax — www.equifax.com
800-685-1111
P.O. BOX 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experain - www.experian.com
888-397-3742
P.O. BOX 2002, Allen TX 75013

Trans Union — www.transunion.com
800-888-4213
P.O. BOX 1000, Chester, PA 19022

Act quickly if your identity has been stolen. You can find more information about identity theft, and other important consumer protection items at the Federal Trade Commission's web site, http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm, including what to do if you think your identity has been stolen. Take steps to protect yourself now. It can save you a great deal of time, trouble and money later.

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