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Don't become a victim of identity theft.

Identity theft happens when a person wrongly assumes another person's identity for financial or other purposes.

The identity thief obtains vital data about his or her victim--Social Security Number, credit card account numbers, date and place of birth, etc.

Once the thief acquires enough information, they can obtain credit cards, bank accounts, a driver's license and other financial and legal documents in the victim's name. Identity thieves buy houses and cars fraudulently.

They get married using their victim's names. They even get arrested under their victim's names.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States. In 2001, there were 500,000 victims who actually filed a police report. About 9.3 million people were victims of the crime in 2004.

People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years--and much hard-earned money--cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the average victim spends $1,374 and 175 hours cleaning up their credit reports. In the meantime victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they did not commit.

There's no ironclad protection that guarantees that you'll never fall victim to some form of identity theft. But there are steps you can take to protect your privacy, many of which are rather simple:

* Destroy private records and statements. SHRED credit card statements, solicitations and other documents that contain private financial information

* Empty your mailbox quickly so criminals don't have a chance to snatch credit card pitches. Consider locking your mailbox.

* Be more defensive about personal information. Ask salespersons or others if information such as Social Security Number or drivers license is absolutely necessary.

* Stick to well known retailers or sites that you or others have used with satisfaction. Use only one credit card for on-line purchases. That way, if something amiss happens, it'll be easier to spot on your monthly statement.

* Don't carry your Social Security Card with you. A stolen card can reap long-term fraudulent benefits. The card allows criminals to set up dummy checking & savings accounts. The very presence of an account my prompt the bank to issue a credit card to the criminal.

If you think your identity has been stolen, here's what to do now:

1. Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three major credit bureaus. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts. All three bureaus will send you a credit report free of charge.

* Equifax: Call 1-800 525-6285 and write to PO Box 740241, Atlanta, GA. 30374-0241

* Experian: Call 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) and write to PO Box 9532, Allen, Texas 75013

* TransUnion: Call 1-800-680-7289 and Write to Fraud Victim Assistance Division, PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA. 92834-6790

2. Close the accounts that you know or believe have tampered with or opened fraudulently. You should keep a list of credit card account numbers and phone numbers to the issuing bank's customer service departments filed in your home. Two major credit card companies have established easy-to-call numbers such as: 1-800-VISA 911 1-800-627-8372 (MASTERCARD)

3. File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.

4. File your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations.

* Hotline--1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)

5. Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Canceling credit cards may take 5 minutes each. But the DMV is a different story. Some jurisdictions may take a report over the telephone to put an alert on your license in case someone else is stopped for a traffic violation. But you will probably need to go in person for a replacement.

* Arrive armed with back-up documentation to prove your identity. Have your passport, birth certificate imprinted with raised seal, Social Security Card or marriage license with you.

Act fast! Thieves are faster and more clever than ever--and your personal information is a gold mine to them. In these days of burgeoning identity theft, security professionals insist on picking up the phone instantly. Don't think it can't happen to you.



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Article Details
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Author:Winckowski, Anthony
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 9, 2005
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